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Supreme Court declines to hear Pacific Beach Hotel case

    This file photo from November 2011 shows the entrance to the Pacific Beach Hotel in Waikiki.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the power of the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel over a labor dispute at the Pacific Beach Hotel in Waikiki.

The justices today rejected an appeal from the company that runs the Pacific Beach Hotel, which claimed the NLRB wrongfully brought a complaint on behalf of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142 over unfair labor practices. The hotel claimed the board isn’t allowed to pass its authority to its general counsel when it lacks a quorum.

The labor board ruled that the hotel discriminated against employees and that it bargained in bad faith with the union, which first filed a petition for recognition in 2002. Administrative Law Judge James M. Kennedy ordered the company to reinstate seven workers and bargaining committee members who said they were wrongfully terminated. The NLRB upheld most of Kennedy’s decision and also imposed new reccomendations, such as ordering Pacific Beach to pay the union’s bargaining expenses.

The court in 2010 said the NLRB, which had operated for 27 months with only two of its five seats filled, needed at least three members to issue decisions. Voting 5-4, the justices said Congress didn’t authorize the board to act with only two members.

Anticipating membership would fall below the required quorum, the board in November 2011 "temporarily" delegated its powers to the general counsel on legal matters that would normally require the board’s approval.

The hotel asked the high court to review the case in light of a dispute over whether the board can even bring complaints. With only two members confirmed by the Senate and facing gridlock over other nominations, President Barack Obama in January appointed three members before seeking Senate confirmation, asserting that Congress was in recess. Those appointments are separately being challenged in other courts with Republicans arguing that Congress was still in session.

The case is HTH Corp. v Frankl, 11-622.

In December, U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright’s found hotel owner HTH Corp. and its top manager, Robert "Mick" Minicola, in contempt of court for failing to follow the National Labor Relations Act. He ordered Minicola to read the court’s decision aloud to employees and that the hotel comply with an injunction issued in March requiring it to follow the National Labor Relations Act.

Seabright’s contempt ruling also ordered Pacific Beach Hotel to pay back the U.S. Treasury and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Local 142 for related legal costs, and instructed the company to reinstate and give back pay to Rhandy Villanueva, a pro-union employee who the NLRB said was wrongfully terminated twice.

Villanueva, who was on the union bargaining committee, was first fired in December 2008 along with 32 others. A legal order reinstated Villanueva in 2010, but he was fired again a few months later.

During the past decade, the NLRB has charged Pacific Beach with numerous labor violations that include failing to bargain in good faith, discharging employees to discourage union activities, unilaterally changing terms and conditions of employment, and interfering with the rights of employees under the National Labor Relations Act.

In December, Minicola, regional vice president of operations for HTH Corp., said the hotel complied with legal orders and that the NLRB charges were frivolous.

Minicola said the hotel, which employs 450 workers and supervisors, is not trying to keep the union out.

"We are trying to preserve the legal rights of our workers to choose whether or not they want to be in a union," Minicola said.

The ILWU has balked at a hotel proposal for an open shop, which would allow individual workers to choose whether they wanted to belong to the union, he said.


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