DULUTH, Minn. — On Sept. 21, the Pickwick Restaurant here agreed to settle with the union, and re-hire the workers it had illegally fired for union activity. This huge victory came on the heels of 12 grueling weeks of daily picketing by Workers United Local 99—the region’s hospitality workers’ union.
The labor dispute began earlier this summer when contract negotiations between Local 99 and Pickwick owner Chris Wisocki broke down. Despite the fact that the Pickwick has been union for 85 years, it became very clear early on that Wisocki was determined to end that.
When Local 99 began informational leafletting and picketing to alert the public of this, Wisocki fired two of his workers, Sandy Reinholt and CJ Cannon, for exercising their right to picket—despite the fact that it is clearly illegal to fire workers for union activity. These firings sparked a union-sponsored boycott of the restaurant backed up by daily pickets, as well as charges being filed against the Pickwick with the National Labor Relations Board.
The NLRB, after two months, finally handed down its ruling in early September. It sided 100% with the union, ruling that the firing of Sandy and CJ had been illegal, and demanding that they be re-instated with full back pay.
It also found that the Pickwick had illegally imposed its own unilateral contract on its employees and revoked recognition of the union—and that it was stealing from its employees by collecting union dues from them for the past three months but failing to turn the dues over to the union.
The NLRB declared that it would take the Pickwick to federal court to force compliance with its ruling. Facing mounting legal costs, and with business visibly affected by the daily union pickets, the restaurant caved—agreeing to re-hire Sandy and CJ, and signing a document declaring their intent to come back to the table and negotiate a new contract in good faith with Local 99.
This is a victory not only for Local 99 but for hospitality workers and all labor throughout the region. And it was a victory that couldn’t have been won without the dozens of activists from AFSCME, the Building Trades, the Northland Anti-War Coalition, Socialist Action, and other organizations that regularly and consistently walked the Local 99 picket lines throughout the labor dispute.
What happens next remains to be seen. Hopefully, the Pickwick and Local 99 will be able to successfully negotiate a new contract. If the Pickwick fails to do so, however, the pickets will go back up. Union supporters are urged to be prepared to hit the streets again if need be. We’ve shown that labor solidarity is alive and well in the Northland, and that it has the power to succeed! —Adam Ritscher