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Workers United and Rival UNITE HERE Fight Over Aramark Employees in Pittsburgh (Read More)

February 18, 2010 By Michael Bagen
Pittsburgh—A press conference Downtown led to confrontation today as members of Workers United were met by members of rival union UNITE HERE.

The confrontation took place outside Mellon Arena (a.k.a. “the Igloo”) on Thursday when reps of Unite HERE interrupted a press conference of Worker’s United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The conference was called to draw attention to the Friday announcement by Aramark, the firm who manages Mellon Arena’s service industry.

On February 12th, Aramark announced that they will not be honoring the Mellon Arena contract at the new CONSOL Energy Arena. The igloo’s workers will lose their existing wage and benefit standards. They will also have to reapply for their new jobs at CONSOL as new employees, losing not only their seniority but their job security in their move across the street. This announcement was made available to employees via letter distributed before closing on Friday prior to the pre-Olympic lull.

Representatives of Workers United have called this an attempty by Aramark to weaken or remove the union, lower wages and reduce benefits.

“Its very unsettling,” said G. Ryin Gaines, a seven year employee and Suite Attendant at Mellon Arena. Gains pointed to the timing as a step taken to avoid any backlash at the announcement of Igloo employee job security being effectively nullified as of the new arena’s completion. Gains is an affiliate of Worker’s United.

But who works at the Mellon Arena; Workers United, or United Here? The answer comes from a March 2009 split by the UNITE HERE from the Pennsylvania Labor Board. A contract signed in September 2006 with Mellon Arena names three parties in the agreement UNITE HERE, Local #57, and Joint Labor Board.

Prior to the signing of the agreement the Pennsylvania Joint Board was the Pennsylvania Joint Board of UNITE HERE, according to Michelle Winbush, a shop steward of UNITE HERE. According to Winbush, the SEIU began exerting influence over the Joint Board, convincing Local #57 employees that they would be better represented by the SEIU.

This meshes somewhat with the explanation of Western PA Labor Board rep Sam Williamson, who blamed the split on high-level mismanagement and grievances resulting in the schism. Winbush stated that the approach itself was part of what generated the bad blood currently between the two groups.

What it boils down to is the question: what union represents Local #57 in the igloo? The joint board is now dominated by the SEIU, and according to Williamson any dispute relating to the contract goes through the Joint Board, Worker’s United, and the SEIU. But UNITE HERE still claims the traditional role as the representatives at Mellon Arena and in the Igloo Club therein (they are on two separate contracts).

Despite this issue, both unions were disturbed by the Aramark announcement.

“Waling on eggshells,” as Gains described it.

Beatrice Binion, a 73 year old UNITE HERE member and food service employee of Mellon Arena will have to apply as a new employee at CONSOL Energy Arena. She has been working at Mellon Arena for 46 years. The Igloo itself has been there for 49 (opened September, 1961).

Posted by Admin on 02/19 at 09:35 AM