he National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees union matters, plans to issue a far-reaching legal complaint against the restaurant, federal officials and union leaders say. The complaint would accuse the Boathouse of illegally threatening and questioning workers, as well as firing and otherwise punishing more than 15 workers for supporting the union.
The labor board has also said, according to these officials, that it plans to seek an unusual judicial order to require the Boathouse to enter contract negotiations with the union, even though no election has been held to determine whether the restaurant’s 140 workers want to unionize.
The labor board seeks such orders only in the rare instances when it concludes that an employer’s illegal actions are so widespread and egregious that they would prevent a fair unionization vote from being held.
Peter Ward, president of the New York Hotel Trades Council, the union that many of the Boathouse workers have been seeking to join, said: “The labor board is saying to the restaurant’s owner and his agents that you, through fear, intimidation, firings, surveillance and threats, have destroyed the laboratory conditions necessary for a fair and clean election. And your behavior has been so bad we can’t ever re-establish those conditions.”
Robert Barletta, a spokesman for the Boathouse, said, “We deny all the allegations.” He declined to comment on the board’s plan to seek an order requiring the Boathouse’s owner to negotiate with the union.
Officials of the Boathouse, the union and the labor board all acknowledged that representatives from the restaurant, which is open despite the strike, will meet with the board’s deputy general counsel next Tuesday to discuss the planned complaint, which the restaurant may head off by offering enough concessions to settle the charges.
But Dan Silverman, a lawyer for the union and the former director of the labor board’s regional office in Manhattan, said: “This is not going to settle unless the Boathouse agrees to negotiate a contract with the union. Reinstating the fired workers isn’t going to be enough.”
Mr. Ward said more than 70 percent of the restaurant’s workers signed cards last winter saying they wanted to join his union. He said the union gave those cards to the labor board in January to request a unionization election, but none has been conducted because of litigation and because the board concluded that conditions were not right for an election.
Mr. Barletta, the Boathouse spokesman, said on Thursday that 70 percent of the restaurant’s current employees — excluding those on strike and those fired — recently signed a petition saying they did not want to unionize. He said that petition had been sent to the labor board and Mr. Ward.
John Turchiano, a union spokesman, said managers might have pressured workers to sign that petition. “Given their history, it’s pretty clear how they ended up getting those signatures,” he said.
After the workers walked out at lunchtime on Aug. 9, the restaurant issued a statement saying the union had organized “one publicity stunt after another” and was using “yet another vindictive tactic” against the Boathouse’s owner, Dean J. Poll.
The dispute has become intertwined with the union’s battle with Mr. Poll over a license he won to run Tavern on the Green, also in Central Park. Mr. Poll never reopened Tavern after he was unable to reach a contract with Mr. Ward’s union, which represented the 400 Tavern workers under the previous licensee, Warner LeRoy.
Christopher Skaggs, a waiter at the Boathouse for five years, said, “For them to say we’re out here on strike as a vendetta because of what went on at Tavern is pretty insulting to us. We’re out here to fight for a better work environment. We shouldn’t have to work in a place where we’re mistreated.”
Numerous workers complained of low wages and of not receiving health coverage.
Marie Agniel, another waiter, complained of a capricious management style. “I’ve worked here for six years, and every day I walk in and I don’t know whether I’m going to be fired,” she said
Ms. Agniel is one of six workers who have filed sexual harassment complaints. Mr. Barletta said the Boathouse “denies all the allegations about harassment.”