March 28, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Last week’s announcement that a New York City sightseeing operation must pay more than $50,000 to a half-dozen pro-union workers illegally fired in 2015, underscores just how difficult the job of organizing can be.
Fired employees for Go New York Tours say that they never knew from one week to the next how much money they would actually take home, and often left work with black soot covering their ears due to the poorly conceived exhaust systems on the company’s double-decker buses.
Conditions were so bad that lead organizer Daniel Kaminsky, 26, says he often resorted to urinating in a bottle while tours were in progress because management wouldn't allow workers time enough to eat or relieve themselves properly.
“I didn’t expect the conditions to be that horrible,” Kaminsky told LaborPress.
As tour guides, Kaminsky and his co-workers also had to contend with other abuses for pay that could amount to as little as $10 an hour. Like faulty microphones that undermined the company's prime directive to always remain upbeat, while leaving vocal chords shredded and voices hoarse as the day wore on.
Still, when Go New York Tour employees determined to join TWU Local 100 in an effort to improve working conditions, they found that achieving the support necessary to unionize was truly daunting. Due, in large part, to the job’s high turnover rate and isolating work routines that made connecting tough.
“What’s hurting us is turnover,” Kaminsky says. “Organizing requires some continuity. Workers also don’t have contact with each other. But we worked hard to intersect with other tour guides when our shifts were over.”
Then, of course, workers also had to contend with management’s fear and intimidation tactics, which ultimately led to the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] settlement.
With his boundless energy and outgoing personality, Kaminsky was a natural to lead tours and quickly became a management favorite not long after joining Go New York Tours in December of last year. But all that immediately changed when he started helping to organize his co-workers.
“The second they found out that I was an organizer my pay dropped,” Kaminsky says. “Everything that happened to me correlated to a union event. When they found out I was an organizer, my pay got cut. When they found out I was an observer for the election my pay got cut even further. And when I was going to be one of the lead negotiators for the contract they fired me.”
Go New York Tours employs some 300 workers and operates mobile sightseeing tours both on the street and in the waters around the city.
According to NLRB charges, Go New York Tours management “interrogated employees about their activities and sympathies; created an impression among employees that their union activities were under surveillance; and threatened employees with the loss of both bonuses and termination if they selected the union as their bargaining representative.”
“They said things like, ‘You’ll go on permanent strike,’” Kaminsky says. “All that classic intimidation stuff.”
Through perseverance and determination, however, workers managed to secure an election last spring. TWU Local 100 was officially certified as their bargaining representative on June 6.
Kaminsky was abruptly terminated on July 19. He expects to collect more than $9,000 in the settlement, but won’t return to his old job after waving re-instatement rights.
“They really didn’t want me there,” Kaminsky says.
In addition to having to pay more than $50,000 for illegally firing Kaminsky, along with two other tour guides, one mechanic, a boat captain and one engineer, the management of Go New York Tours will now have to post worksite notices acknowledging the right of workers to unionize without the fear of unchecked retaliation.
“This is an important victory,” TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen said in a statement. “Go New York Tours arrogantly, callously and illegally fired workers for supporting the union. We fought back on their behalf and won.”
Kaminsky is now hopeful that his former co-workers at Go New York Tours will soon be able to win a fair contract.
“Once we get that first contract we’ll be a lot stronger because people will see that the conditions of the company have improved and they will want to stay,” Kaminsky says. “And there is strength in numbers.”