The Baltimore office of the National Labor Relations Board has issued an unfair labor practice complaint against Harbor Cruises Ltd., owner of the Bay Lady and Lady Baltimore tour boats.
The NLRB said it would bring to trial allegations that the dinner cruise company's managers improperly intimidated waiters into voting against a unionizing drive, then fired union supporters after the drive failed.
Beverly Stappler, co-owner of the dinner cruise company, yesterday insisted she and her managers had done nothing wrong.
She said she didn't understand why the union and the board were pursuing the case after the employees had voted against the union.
"We are not anti-union at all," Ms. Stappler said, adding that some of the NLRB's allegations were "a bald-faced lie."
"We don't understand why the union is not accepting the vote." The continuing battle over the organizing drive is "diverting our minds, creating an expense for no reason," she said.
In March, the waiters and waitresses who work on the boats, which take tourists around the Inner Harbor, voted 20-17 against an organizing drive by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 37.
In a filing dated Aug. 25, the NLRB charged that boat managers told employees that the Stappler family "would go to any lengths to frustrate the union's attempt," and that the union's demands for health and vacation benefits would put the company out of business. Harbor Cruise Ltd. also intimidated the workers, the NLRB alleged. For example, the complaint says,managers threatened to force a strike if workers joined the union, then hire permanent replacement workers.
The NLRB also said the managers started cutting hours and firing workers who had supported the union as soon as the vote was over.
John Singleton, attorney for the union, said most of the workers actually supported the union because they believed managers were arbitrarily assigning shifts and had changed the tipping policy to reduce waiters' take-home pay.
But, he said, the workers ended up narrowly defeating the organizing drive because "a lot of people were scared by the threats" and warnings that the union would never win a contract.
Mr. Singleton said he hoped the trial, which will be held before a federal administrative law judge, would be over by November.
He said he hopes to win reinstatement for the fired employees and a new union vote by next spring.