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Soho Grand Locks Out Its Guards

Owners of a pair of swank downtown hotels—the Soho Grand on West Broadway and the Tribeca Grand on White Street—have locked out 19 security guards who were seeking a union contract.

Guards at the luxury hotels, where rooms average more than $300 per night, were turned away on June 20 when they sought to report for work. The move came after a narrow majority of the security force voted last year to be represented by the Brotherhood of Security Personnel Officers and Guards. The decision to join the union was sparked by what pro-union guards said were numerous arbitrary firings.

"In one case, they fired a bellman for not smiling enough," said Ivan Gonzalez, 31, a security officer at the Soho Grand since its 1996 opening. "So we went to the union for security. The managers got tough right away. They said, 'If you go union, we'll take away your benefits.'"

Hotel owners also turned to the law firm of Jackson Lewis to handle negotiations with the union. The firm, considered by organized labor to be virulently anti-union, holds seminars around the country telling managers how to stay union-free.

The hotels, cited in travel guides as among the city's hippest, were built by Leonard Stern, a real estate and pet food mogul who is a former owner of the Voice.

Guards said Stern's son, Emanuel, a co-owner of both hotels, played an outspoken role in urging them to steer clear of the union. "At a meeting of all the hotel's guards, he told us, 'The unions are a cancer on society,' " said Gonzalez. "When one of my colleagues questioned him, he said he would just prefer not to have any unions at all in the hotel."

Stern did not respond to requests for comment, but hotel managers issued a statement blaming "union intransigence" at the bargaining table for the impasse. Since the lockout, security work has been subcontracted to a non-union firm.

"The guards were making up to $18 an hour, now they're paying people $6.50," said union leader Curtis Trueheart. The union, which has been conducting daily leafleting of the hotels, has filed unfair labor practice charges against the hotel that are scheduled for a hearing by an administrative judge in September.

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