Union local opposes Nordstrom It says mall work hurts environment

December 01, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

A food and commercial local representing workers at the Annapolis Woodward & Lothrop has joined the fight against construction of a Nordstrom at nearby Annapolis Mall.

Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union -- which represents 41,000 retail, grocery and nursing employees in Baltimore and Washington -- has challenged a county-issued permit to build a Nordstrom as part of the mall's planned expansion.

A union official said it wants to stop the Seattle-based upscale retailer from opening because new development would ruin the environment and worsen traffic congestion, and because Nordstrom has been accused of mistreating its workers.

C. James Lowthers, secretary/treasurer for the local and a 10-year Annapolis resident, said the challenge is not linked to Woodward & Lothrop Inc., which has been waging its own battle -- so far unsuccessfully -- to halt mall expansion on environmental grounds.

"The environment continues to take a beating from [mall] expansion and somebody needs to put a stop to it," said Mr. Lowthers, who petitioned the county Board of Appeals last week, along with Local President Thomas R. McNutt, three union employees and one member. All six live in the county.

Besides, he added, making reference to articles published in the Seattle Times, "We don't think this is the kind of company people want in their community."

The newspaper in 1990 reported a lawsuit filed by two United Food and Commercial Workers locals and five former Nordstrom employees on behalf of an estimated 50,000 past and present employees allegedly not paid for all hours worked.

Other articles reported that an employee with AIDS sued Nordstrom for firing him and that a sales clerk sued the retailer, claiming a hidden video camera in a changing room violated her privacy.

The back-wages class action suit is scheduled for court in February, though the locals that filed suit no longer represent employees, who voted the union out. Nordstrom officials said the suit was just a ploy during contract negotiations, and that employees who worked extra hours did so to gain money through commissions, not additional salary.

The suit involving the employee with acquired immune deficiency syndrome was settled, said Joe Demarte, Nordstrom's vice president of personnel, without the company acknowledging any wrongdoing. The video camera suit is being fought, he said, because there was no camera in the employee's stockroom.

To challenge a building permit based on the belief that the company has mistreated employees -- "That's stretching a little," said Kathryn J. Dahl, attorney for Annapolis Mall Limited Partnership, the mall's owner.

But the local's brief written appeal makes no mention of labor problems -- maintaining only that the construction would violate environmental protection, green space and traffic standards.

Those charges are familiar to ones that come from Woodies, said Rodney Haynes, vice president of development for the mall's manager.

"These issues seem to be the same issues raised by Woodies," Mr. Haynes said. "We've had our plans extensively reviewed by state and local officials. We analyzed Woodies' challenges and decided they're without merit. They have not won anything yet, and we don't expect them to win. Rather than let them hold us hostage, we have gone ahead."

The mall is now building the foundation for Nordstrom, which will then build a steel structure.

Woodies, which has a store in Parole Plaza, and Annapolis Mall officials had negotiated for about three years to bring a new, larger Woodies store to the mall. After talks broke off, Woodies was told that Nordstrom would come to the mall instead.

After Woodies began challenging the mall's plans to double its size with a 150,000-square-foot Nordstrom and 100,000 square feet of additional shops, mall owners and Nordstrom agreed to delay the opening to spring 1993.

The board has scheduled a Jan. 27 hearing on the union's appeal.

Though the board ruled in July that Woodies does not have standing and dismissed the challenge to mall expansion, Mr. Lowthers said he feels confident the local's challenge will turn out differently.

"To dismiss something out of hand isn't appropriate when you're talking about the quality of life in Anne Arundel County and the mixing bowl they call Parole."

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