May 16, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—Smith & Wollensky Restaurant on 49th Street and Third Avenue is one of the highest grossing restaurants in the country, according to the owner, Fourth Wall Restaurants. But waiters, bartenders and dishwashers represented by UNITE HERE Local 100 protested outside on Wednesday because they’ve been working without a new contract for nine months. Watch Video
According to Tim Pachonka, a Local 100 shop steward, the union and management have always been able to reach middle ground in negotiations dating back to the late 1970s when Smith & Wollensky first opened.
But Fourth Wall management is insisting upon draconian measures in the current talks.
“Smith & Wollensky is asking us to pay over 55 percent for our total health care benefits, which comes out to over $7,000 per member,” said Pachonka.
He noted the workers are currently contributing 12 to 13 percent towards their health care premiums.
“Some of the members who work in the kitchen as dishwashers, cooks and prep men, who earn $25,000 to $30,000 annually, would have to spend almost a quarter of their salary just for medical benefits,” Pachonka said.
In addition, the owners want to freeze wages for all 165 workers in the bargaining unit and eliminate holiday and vacation benefits for more senior workers, according to Local 100.
The union and management will be back at the bargaining table on May 28, but so far the company has been unwilling to retreat from its excessive health care demands.
“We haven’t even started working on the other points because the health care issue has been such a stickler,” noted Pachonka.
The union rallied outside the restaurant in February, and depending upon how negotiations fare after May 28, it might do so again.
“We’ll see what happens after May 28. We can do other rallies. But there are other ways to get their attention and if we have to do it, well, we’ll do it, said Pachonka.
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