Cooks and waitresses seek union at Hopkins club

October 10, 1990|By Michael K. Burns

Employees wearing black armbands stood outside the Johns Hopkins Club at lunchtime yesterday, leafleting members and students to support their drive to form a labor union at the graceful private club.

"We're in mourning for the [working] conditions, but we'll be celebrating with a party after the election," said Rosetta Mosby, a waitress at the Hopkins campus institution for 14 years. "It's time for a change."

The National Labor Relations Board will conduct a vote among 65 eligible employees Tuesday to decide if Local 7 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees union will represent them in bargaining with club management.

Pay and working schedules are key issues in the organizing campaign, the first undertaken by the union at a private club in this area.

Waitresses say members don't realize how little they are paid in tips. Members pay an 18 percent service charge on their bills, but the waitresses receive only 8 percent; the other 10 percent goes back to the club treasury, employees say.

"I'm just tired of us being cheated," said Ms. Mosby. "Members think we are getting the whole 18 percent, and when we tell them, they are astonished."

"They need to pay us more for our hours," added Berteal Greene, who has worked at the club as a cook and waitress for 13 years. Ms. Greene said she was paid $3.10 an hour and took home between $140 and $190 a week, depending on business.

"They say we get our pay raise on the commission when the prices are raised, but it's only 8 percent of that raise. It's not enough," Ms. Greene said.

Robert Caulfield, manager of the 4,200-member club of alumni, faculty and staff at Hopkins, said employee complaints were unfounded.

"Our package of wages and benefits is as good or better than other membership clubs, union or non-union." Regardless of how employee compensation is calculated, "we compare very favorably with other clubs," he said.

While union supporters say they have received signs of encouragement from club members over the past month, the board of governors of the 90-year-old club is openly opposed to a union.

"The club's position is that we do not feel a union is needed for our staff," said Dr. John E. Hoopes, board president. "The club offers fair wages, excellent benefits, job security and a pleasant working environment for our employees."

Ernest Alexander, a club cook who is on the organizing committee, said employees were unhappy with the pay for holidays, with split shifts that forced workers to take off unpaid hours between meals and with the lack of modern kitchen facilities.

"One of the main things is that management never has time to talk with you," he said. Only after the union began organizing did supervisors begin to respond to employee concerns, Mr. Alexander claimed. "Then they mostly talk about why we don't need a union," he added.

Paul Richards, Local 7's business agent, said this was the first private club the union had attempted to organize.

"We'd like to inform [club] members about the situation and have them polled on whether to recognize the union," he said. "The board won't talk with us."

"There has always been a good relationship between management and the employees. If anything would happen to change that, members would be concerned," said one longtime club member, Samuel Hopkins.

Local 7 has represented cafeteria workers at the university for 10 years, through a contract with Seilers Corp. food service. But club employees initiated the contacts with the union this summer, Mr. Richards said.

Mr. Caulfield said the union drive was a "complete surprise" to managers.

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