The National Labor Relations Board in Boston is seeking a restraining order against unions representing striking Verizon Communications Inc. workers, alleging that pickets have harassed replacement workers outside their motels.
Filed in US District Court in Boston Monday, the NLRB request says members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers engaged in unfair labor practices by allegedly resorting to aggressive tactics, including vandalizing vehicles belonging to the replacement workers, confronting workers outside the motels where they were staying, and yelling obscenities at employees and other motel guests.
The petition includes affidavits from Verizon managers, replacement workers, and hotel and motel employees who said they witnessed instances where picketers would block driveways into the motels, blow air horns at 6 a.m., and confront other motel guests who had no connection to Verizon.
Hamel P. Patel, co-owner of the Days Inn in Middleborough, said in his affidavit that on one occasion about 30 picketers surrounded his car as he was driving away with his 5-year-old daughter in the back seat, yelling at them, and relayed a similar incident involving an elderly couple staying at the inn.
Employees of several motels said they were threatened with a boycott unless they kicked out the replacement workers, while the affidavits said contractors were refused rooms at other motels and were forced to bounce from one lodging to another to escape the picketers.
There are approximately 120 replacement workers across Massachusetts and Rhode Island staying in about 10 different hotels, according to the court filing.
“The threat of further unlawful conduct from [IBEW picketers] is tangible, as the labor dispute is ongoing, and there are allegations of continuing picketing and threats,” the NLRB said in its court filing. “This illegal campaign may force Verizon to capitulate to [the unions’] demands in the primary labor dispute.”
Myles Calvey, chairman of the IBEW council overseeing the locals named in the filing, was unavailable for comment. He is also the financial secretary for Local 2222 in Boston, a union local also named in court documents.
Paul Feeney, legislative director for IBEW Local 2222, said he could not comment on the allegations or the restraining order, citing ongoing litigation. But speaking only for his local, he said that members are educated on the dos and don’ts of picketing.
“We try to be respectful, but at the same time communicate to Verizon that it’s not going to be easy to have replacement workers do our jobs,” Feeney said. “We don’t condone violence, vandalism; it’s just not what we do. Our goals are to educate the public and send a message to Verizon.”
Feeney said he does not know whether picketing at hotels has stopped, but he defended the action, saying that striking employees have a right to picket anywhere Verizon work is being performed. The unions believe those replacement workers are picking up tools and work orders and generally working out of their hotels.
About 39,000 Verizon landline and cable workers from the East Coast, including about 5,000 in Massachusetts, walked off the job April 13 after contract negotiations stalled. The workers have been without a contract since last August.
The NLRB sought the restraining order after Verizon New England Inc. filed a complaint with the labor agency against the IBEW council that oversees union locals here, alleging that picketers were illegally disrupting its business, as well as that of its contractors and the hotels and motels housing replacement workers. On May 20, the NLRB found picketers had engaged in unfair labor practices and scheduled a hearing for later in June.
On May 9, a federal district court in New York ordered the Communication Workers of America, another union representing Verizon workers, to stop picketing hotels housing out-of-town replacement workers. The NLRB’s New York office requested that temporary restraining order on behalf of Verizon.
Verizon said in a statement that it is pleased the Boston NLRB office is seeking the restraining order.
“Picketers have caused guests to fear for their personal safety,” said Amy Seifer, assistant general counsel at Verizon. “These businesses, and the customers they serve, should be free from the IBEW’s blatantly unlawful coercion.”
The NLRB declined to comment.
Owners and employees of the motels, including Patel, either declined to comment or could not be reached.
The agency’s complaint said that earlier in May, members of IBEW system council T-6 representing locals from around New England picketed a Motel 6 in Danvers, an Extended Stay America motel in Westborough, a Days Inn in Middleborough, Fireside Inn & Suites in Nashua, and the Providence Biltmore.
The union locals sent letters to the hotel and motels urging them to “immediately stop giving aid and comfort to Verizon’s out of town replacement work force,” according to court filings. The letters went on to say that IBEW picketers would “ask your customers and the general public to boycott your business.”
Statements provided to the
NLRB by Verizon managers, contractors, and employees of the hotels and motels depict chaotic scenes where picketers’ alleged disruptive tactics escalated to levels so oppressive that some guests asked for refunds or canceled reservations, prompting some of the facilities to ask the Verizon replacement workers to leave.
In one instance on May 12, a guest at the Extended Stay in Westborough told a Verizon manager overseeing the contractors that she was at the hotel recovering from heart surgery and was roused from her sleep by the picketers, according to that manager’s statement. Later that day in the same place, a manager for one of Verizon’s out-of-town contractors said in a statement that one of his drivers was inching his way through a large crowd of picketers, when a picketer allegedly opened his driver side door, leading the driver to accelerate and strike another picketer. Westborough police had to intervene as picketers swarmed the truck and driver, according to the court filing.
A senior investigator for Verizon said in a statement that the tires of several contractors’ vehicles had been punctured on May 9 at the Fireside Inn in Nashua. In another statement, the Fireside general manager alleged he was called a “fat pork-chop” and that picketers taunted him with, “we’ll get you later,” and “kick ’em out.”