The union that organizes restaurant workers at Tavern on the Green is spoiling for a fight with the new leaseholder, who's trying to renegotiate the union's contract. The new operator, Dean Poll, was awarded the license by the Parks Department last month, but he's under no obligation to honor the previous labor contract. So he wants the workers to agree to a pay cut, agree to no advance notice for layoffs or reduction in hours, and a change to the banquet staff to a vague new hourly rate, without tips. They're currently paid $5.26 an hour with tips.
Peter Ward, president of the restaurant’s union, isn't exactly feeling it. "This proposal is an insult, an atrocity and a slap in the face of not only this union but every New Yorker," he tells the Times. We will strike this guy for a hundred years over this, and we will never, ever give in." The union's done it before; back in 1989 there was a 10 week strike at Tavern when the union fought to represent the workers. Business declined by 60%, and restaurant patrons had to pass by a gauntlet of vulgar insults from strikers.
At Tavern, union waiters have been making from $35,000 to $45,000 a year with tips, and senior banquet waiters as much as $60,000 a year. Poll says it's necessary to cut salaries to ensure profitability, especially in light of the current Tavern operator's filing for bankruptcy, despite running one of the highest-grossing restaurants in America. But Ward brushes off concerns about profitability:
Tavern was an immensely profitable restaurant for every year it has been a union restaurant — except one ... [Poll] can sit down and negotiate with us in good faith to work out a fair contract. Or he can do it the hard way, and we will drive his customers away, and when he gets to the point where he has no business and no choice, then he’ll sign a contract with us. Poll is going to settle a contract with us the easy way or the hard way.
This is the union that previously brought Warner Le Roy and the Cipriani family to their knees after bitter strikes, so Poll ought to know they're not bluffing.