As the official watering hole of the Republican National Committee, the Capitol Hill Club has a reputation to uphold.
So it was really no great surprise that when Local 25 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union showed up at club's doorstep in the fall of 1989 claiming to represent a majority of the 68 waiters, bartenders and kitchen helpers, the club's management did what management often does. It slammed the door in the union's face.
At that point, said Cathy Thomas, organizing director for Local 25, the union took its case to the National Labor Relations Board, which issued a complaint against the 4,600-member club for refusing to recognize the union on the basis of authorization cards signed by its employees.
That was in January 1990. Eleven months later, after a series of hearing delays, a NLRB administrative law judge ordered the club to recognize the union and begin bargaining for a contract.
But it soon became apparent the club would appeal the ruling, an action that could throw the case into limbo for several years as it worked its way through the NLRB system. Only two members of the board opposed the delaying tactic in favor of recognition, Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) and Corrine Michel, the wife of House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.). The majority on the board insisted on a secret ballot election for union representation.
In the meantime, the union picket line outside the club was beginning to become an embarrassment to some club members.
Enter Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.). A close friend of club president Mike Dineen, Washington lobbyist for the Kemper Insurance Co., and Edward Hanley, a former Chicago neighbor who was president of the international union, Hyde talked to both about a compromise.
"It was a sore spot to have pickets in front of the Capitol Hill Club every day," Hyde said yesterday. "It wasn't good for the Republican image." And besides, with the United States at war in the Middle East, he told club members, "We don't need to be fighting on Capitol Hill."
Three weeks ago, Hyde called a meeting in Chicago where both sides agreed to hold an election. The rules were simple and unusual: The election would be held in two weeks. There would be no campaigning, and each side would have one hour to make its case to the employees during a "debate" two days before last Friday's election.
But even with the agreement, the union took no chances. Enlisting the aid of Robert Georgine, president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department and one of the few members of the labor movement to belong to the club, Local 25 President Ron Richardson set up a luncheon meeting at the club on the day of the election.
In keeping with the election rules worked out by the club, Richardson did not campaign. But he brought a special guest with him: D.C. "shadow senator" Jesse Jackson. Sitting at the lunch table with Richardson, Thomas and Georgine, Jackson was able to personally greet many of the prospective union members, 75 percent of whom are minorities.
Local 25 won the election 34 to 25 with three people abstaining.