Picking the wrong person to bully

November 04, 1997|By George F. Will

WASHINGTON -- If bullying is your business, there is no point in sugar-coating it. So Steve Grossman's Sept. 22 letter began at a brisk canter, with no preliminary pleasantries.

Mr. Grossman, chair of the Democratic National Committee, was writing to Jose Campos, managing director of the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington. Operating on the principle that beating around the bush butters no parsnips, Mr. Grossman wrote:

''Dear Mr. Campos: It has come to our attention . . .''

What had ''come'' to Mr. Grossman's attention may have been thrust there by organized labor. That is just a surmise, but Mr. Grossman's letter reads:

A union issue

''It has come to our attention that the Omni Shoreham Hotel is considering contracting for considerable renovation work at the hotel with a firm that may open a portion of the work to non-union carpenters. This is an issue of great concern to the Democratic National Committee. It is our policy to hold events only at union hotels. If the Omni contracts with non-union firms, it would undoubtedly have a meaningful impact on our decision about where we hold future events.''

The phrase ''meaningful impact'' is an example of what your basic Washington operator considers spiffy English. The operators salt their discourse with it in order to give an elevated tone to not very elevated goings-on. Mr. Grossman continued:

''We have enjoyed working with the Omni and your staff over the years. However, because we understand that you are currently in negotiations and a contract has not yet been approved, we strongly urge you to demonstrate continued good corporate citizenship by coming to terms that provide for top quality, cost-effective unionized labor in all respects.''

Well. When a political apparatchik takes time from his busy schedule to offer instruction in ''good corporate citizenship,'' a response should come from the corporation's highest level. The letter to Mr. Campos was passed to Irving, Texas, to the chairman of Omni Hotels, Robert B. Rowling. He was distinctly cool about Mr. Grossman's moral tutorial. On Sept. 30, Mr. Rowling wrote to Mr. Grossman:

''Because so many union employees work at the hotel and depend upon it for their livelihood, I felt compelled to respond to your letter before the Democratic National Committee takes any precipitous action which would adversely affect many of your constituents.''

Mr. Rowling noted that corporate policy regarding the more than $65 million in renovations at the Shoreham, as in all Omni Hotels' work, is that the construction contractor is directed to obtain at least three bids for all components of the project and to award contracts to the lowest bidders. (About 65 percent went to union contractors.) Mr. Rowling said:

''Whether a subcontractor or tradesman is union or non-union is not a factor we consider. We believe the decision of a subcontractor or tradesman to be union or non-union is a matter of personal freedom and choice which is neither our business nor our concern.''

It was wonderfully naughty of Mr. Rowling to tweak Mr. Grossman -- national chair of a vehemently ''pro-choice'' party -- about the right to choose. And he was not done. He said Omni was not opposed in principle to allowing union contractors another opportunity to bid, provided everyone else is accorded equal treatment. However, he said that in this instance all parties had ample opportunities to make well-considered bids and the hotel needed to proceed without further delay.

Mr. Rowling reminded Mr. Grossman that the Shoreham ''is operated by union employees'' who depend upon its success. He said it would be unfortunate if DNC actions designed ''to promote jobs for non-competitive union labor'' hurt the hotel and its ''union labor which has excelled in a competitive environment. Would you like to explain this to the union employees who work at the hotel?''

Noting that many non-union workers in the construction trades are constituents of the Democratic Party, Mr. Rowling said he thought they would object to the DNC's opposition to ''an open and fair bidding process.'' He asked Mr. Grossman, ''Would you like to write a letter to [those who] won the bid in an open and fair process and explain to them that they have lost the job because the Democratic National Committee threatened to boycott the hotel if the job wasn't taken away from them and given to a union shop?''

Bullying business

For Mr. Grossman (who Mr. Rowling says never responded to his letter), the moral of this story is: If bullying is your business -- and it is, if your business is attempting to enforce preferential treatment for the Democratic Party's allies in organized labor -- don't pick fights with the likes of Mr. Rowling.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 11/04/97

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