Union Calls Rally at Canter’s Deli to Mark Year of Picketing : Labor: The eatery’s owners want a decertification vote. Workers charge that management is engaging in unfair practices.
Just over a year ago, workers started picketing Canter’s deli as a bitter fight over pensions and health care escalated into a confrontation over the presence of organized labor at the largest unionized eatery in Los Angeles.
Tuesday, with little progress to show for their efforts, union members and sympathizers staged a protest rally outside the restaurant, which has been a fixture on Fairfax Avenue, a heavily Jewish area, since 1948.
They carried banners with the slogans “Stop the Hate--Negotiate” and “Today’s Special--Racism on Rye.”
Nine demonstrators were arrested on charges of failing to disperse at an unlawful assembly after they linked hands and blocked two lanes of northbound traffic on Fairfax.
“We want Jewish people to realize that this is not a good place to hang out,” said Eric Mann, director of the Labor Community Strategy Center and an organizer of the rally.
An advertisement publicizing the rally bore the signatures of many Jewish union members, as well as the endorsement of the American Civil Liberties Union.
No mainstream Jewish organizations lent their names to the appeal, which came after 12 months of daily confrontations between a handful of pickets and managers on the sidewalk outside the restaurant.
“There’s no reason why we should back off as long as there’s anyone willing to fight for a union contract, and there are,” said Maria Elena Durazo, president of Local 11 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, which signed its last contract with Canter’s in 1985.
Since then, management has dropped out of the union’s health and pension plans, offering its own medical coverage and a yearly bonus of $350-$400 for employees who have been with the restaurant for eight years or more.
Durazo accused Canter’s, whose workers have been represented by Local 11 for about 30 years, of trying to oust the union through threats, bribery and racial intimidation directed against the Latinos who make up most of the kitchen personnel.
Jacqueline Canter, one of several family members who serve as owner-managers of the restaurant, denied the charges.
She accused the union of manufacturing complaints of unfair labor practices in order to delay a vote on whether Local 11 should be decertified as the workers’ bargaining agent.
“The union is hoping to delay this as long as they can, because they suspect that if the vote was taken tomorrow they’d be thrown out,” Canter said.
The vote, first requested by a group of workers last year, cannot be held until all charges of labor law violations are resolved.
Although 80% of decertification elections are resolved within 50 days of filings, the Canter’s case “is going to be with us for a while,” said James Small, acting deputy regional director of the National Labor Relations Board.
In an action last week, the federal agency approved a settlement in which Canter’s agreed to refrain from a long list of actions complained of by the union.
Among other concessions, management agreed not to penalize workers for wearing union buttons, not to keep them from picketing on their break time, and not to go around the union to negotiate health care coverage with individuals.
But the company declared that its agreement did not mean that it was guilty of any labor law violations, which led union attorney Beth Garfield to question its sincerity.
“Basically, we agree that the settlement agreement is a good outline of the offenses that they have been committing over the past year,” she said.
"(But) if they can continuously enter into settlement agreements with non-agreement clauses . . . what happens is that they do new things, as well as repeat old offenses,” she said.