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Hotel workers win union recognition in Puerto Rico

By Rick Nagin, in People's Weekly World, p. 4
26 August, 1995

HUMACAO, Puerto Rico -- After a bitter 12-year siege, workers finally broke through the anti-union walls of Palmas Del Mar, Puerto Rico's second largest resort, and voted overwhelmingly July 20 to be represented by Gastronomical Workers Local 610.

The victory came after eight failed attempts and a prolonged anti-union campaign by Maxxam Properties Inc., owners of the 2,700-acre resort employing 440 workers on the southeast coast of the island.

"Things came to a head this year," said Ruben Davila, the union's director of organizing, "because the company suddenly imposed an inferior medical plan on the employees. Workers were furious and within a week 200 signed union cards."

The company has appealed the election results, claiming that workers were "coerced" into voting for the union by an alleged bomb threat. Davila said he believed the charge was an invention of an attorney recently hired by the company. The attorney used the same tactic against a union when he represented Kentucky Fried Chicken.

"We have demanded that the police investigate," Davila said. "They told us they did not receive any complaint about a bomb threat and the telephone operators at the resort told us the same thing. If there is a bomb threat at a resort in Puerto Rico they usually call out the army."

The regional office of the National Labor Relations Board rejected the company's appeal on July 31 and certified the union. The company has appealed to Washington, but Davila voiced confidence the election would be upheld.

The union, the largest in the island's tourist industry, is affiliated with the Hotel and Restaurant Employees in the U.S. It also represents the 1,500 employees at the Hyatt Dorado and Cerromar Hotels on the north coast, and has petitioned for a union election for 200 employees at the Sands Hotel in San Juan.

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