Washington Convention Center officials are fighting efforts by at least a half-dozen major labor unions to organize workers at the new facility under a federal labor relations law that would give employes the right to strike.
The unions, which are competing for authority to represent the relatively small blue-collar workforce at the center, have asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to assert jurisdiction.
City officials, who contend that the federal law does not extend to agencies of the D.C. government, even semi-independent boards like the convention center board, plan to challenge the unions' request next Monday at a hearing before an NLRB hearing officer.
"Our basic point is that the NLRB doesn't have jurisdiction," said Michael Rogers, deputy general manager of the convention center. "We are a D.C. agency. We should be covered by local law."
But union officials say that the convention center's enabling legislation specifically exempts center employes from the D.C. comprehensive merit personnel act--a law that prohibits employes from striking and gives management broad discretion to exclude certain issues from collective barganing.
"They the convention board want something that would give them the upper hand over the workers," said Ron Richardson, an official of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 25, which is among those attempting to organize convention center workers.
Louis Damico, a regional director for the NLRB in Baltimore, said yesterday, "The main issue is whether the convention center is an employer under the NLRB act."
State governments and their subdivisions are excluded from the federal legislation, according to Damico. At issue will be whether the convention center board constitutes a such a subdivision.
While the number of workers involved in this organizational battle is small, labor officials are anxious to gain a toehold at the center because of the national exposure it would afford them.
In one corner is an alliance of four labor groups, including Richardson's union; United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400; Painters District Council 51; and the International operating engineers.
In another corner is the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and Teamsters Local Union 639.
An eighth union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), stayed out of the fight until recently but began recruiting efforts this week.