The Parks Department responded Friday to repeated requests for comment with a written statement.
“The city is not party to this disagreement which is between a labor union and a restaurant operator with a concession to operate at Central Park,” read the statement. “The concessionaire has met all of his obligations to the city under the agreement.”
The rally was the latest turn of events in an intensifying dispute. The New York Hotel Trades Council is representing the group of workers, who said the concession’s operator, Dean Poll, and his managers systematically mistreated workers on the basis of race and sex, stole tips from servers, and improperly fired 14 banquet employees when they attempted to join the Local 6 union chapter in January of this year.
Yasser Nijim, one of the fired employees attending the rally on Thursday, said he worked at the Boathouse for three years, mostly full-time. He said when he and many other employees joined the Local 6 union committee in June of 2010, “management started bribing us.”
“They gave us a raise. They offered us health insurance that we couldn’t afford,” said Mr. Nijim. When he persisted in advocating for the union, he said, his hours were changed drastically. “We’d leave at three in the morning, come back at eight in the morning–that kind of thing,” he said.
Finally, in January, he was terminated along with 13 other union supporters. “It was because we supported the union,” said Mr. Nijim.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, widely considered to be a likely candidate for mayor in 2012, said she was “incredibly concerned and outraged” over the employee reports.
“Operating a business in Central Park is not a right, it’s a privilege,” she said. “The thing about a privilege is that it can be given, and it can be taken away.”
David Weissman, legal counsel for the Boathouse, disputes the charges.
“Boathouse Management has investigated these claims and found that there is no basis for any of them,” Mr. Weissman said via email Friday. He said allegations of union-busting were “untrue” and that claims of racial and sexual harassment were “totally false.”
The union has filed several complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB said through a spokeswoman Friday that the complaints were “under review.”
City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents the district the Boathouse is located in and also chairs the City Council Parks and Recreation Committee, called on the Parks Department to do more to pressure Mr. Poll to comply with his contract. She said she “wasn’t really pleased with the response of the [Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe] so far.”
“I interpreted his response as a little dismissive,” she said. “I would hope that we’d have a strong partnership with the Parks Department and this administration on these concessions.”
Mr. Weissman said Mr. Poll was in “constant contact” with the Parks Department.
“Not one of the elected officials who spoke out at yesterday’s rally has ever inquired as to any of these claims,” said Mr. Weisman. “The Boathouse welcomes the opportunity to speak with them about any concerns they might have.”
According to the Parks Department website, the city’s contract with Mr. Poll extends until Dec. 31, 2021.