Above Photo: Management was found guilty on 26 counts of labor law violations. Tyrone Turner / WAMU/DCist.
Washington D.C. – The National Labor Relations Board has determined that Union Kitchen violated several labor laws and engaged in union-busting tactics as workers sought to unionize earlier this year, and that management continued to do so throughout the bargaining process, after workers succeeded in formalizing their unit this summer.
According to an NLRB complaint reviewed by DCist/WAMU, management at the food retailer wrongfully terminated several employees, interrogated workers about their union activity, hosted mandatory “captive audience” meetings where workers were encouraged to reject organizing efforts, and tried to offer special benefits if workers distanced themselves from the union drive. The ruling further states that Union Kitchen has refused to cooperate in the collective bargaining process with the newly formed unit of roughly 50 members, including by terminating a member of the union in July without notifying the union.
“It was really validating to read, after nine months of management gaslighting us, that the federal government is pursuing these charges,” says Gabe Wittes, a founding member of the union who was wrongfully terminated in April. (Wittes is now a staff member of the unit that represents the workers, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400.)
When workers file charges with the NLRB, the board invesitgates the allegations — a process that can take months. If sufficient evidence is found to support the charges, “every effort is made to faciliate a settlement between parties.” If no agreement is reached, NLRB files a formal complaint, and the case proceeds before an administrative law judge, who issues a final decision on what remedies need to be taken to settle the matter.
A hearing in this case has been set for February 13, 2023, where Union Kitchen owner Cullen Gilchrist will have an opportunity to testify against the allegations. The judge will then determine whether to issue the remedies that the NLRB has spelled out in its complaint.
In its complaint, the NLRB calls for Union Kitchen to reinstate the wrongfully fired employees, provide backpay, and that Union Kitchen owner Cullen Gilchrist must publicly apologize to employees at a “meeting or meetings scheduled to ensure the widest possible attendance.” Union Kitchen, represented in the NLRB complaint by Gilchrist, is required to respond to the board by Nov. 18. Gilchrist did not immediately return DCist/WAMU’s request for comment.
Union Kitchen employees allege that Gilchrist has engaged in union-busting tactics since workers first went public with their union drive in January 2022. The formal complaint from NLRB dated Nov. 4, marks one step closer to resolution for employees, who have been waiting months for a formal decisions.
“This is unfortunately because the Labor Board is under resourced and overtaxed — it took almost a year since we first filed these unfair labor practice charges,” says Jonathan Williams, the communications director with United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400. “It just took a long time to work through the machinations of the justice process, but we have finally gotten our complaint and [are] seeking those remedies.”
Wittes says that hopefully the NLRB’s formal complaint moves the bargaining process along for his former coworkers.
“Part of what the complaint really means to me — outside of that I’m excited to receive back pay — is that the board found that Union Kitchen failed and refused to bargain over certain mandatory subjects of bargaining,” he says. “I think the remedy for that hopefully will force Union Kitchen to take bargaining a little more seriously. All of my old coworkers who are still there, they deserve a remedy for the wage theft, better healthcare, better staffing.”