Is Honda Center Defying Law on Retaining Employees?

The ongoing battle over the fate of more than 400 Honda Center food workers continues to heat up, with union representatives last week announcing that some of the workers are being told they’re no longer employed at the arena.

During a July 3 conference call with reporters, Ada Briceno, secretary-treasurer of Unite Here Local 11, raised the prospect of a lawsuit over the issue.

Meanwhile, Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman has called on Honda Center operators to meet with union officials and comply with a new state law on worker retention.

The new law, signed last week by Gov. Jerry Brown, requires that the workers who were set to be laid off and replaced at the end of June be retained for another 60 days and then be offered jobs if their work was satisfactory.

“We want to see them comply with the law,” said Briceno.

But union representatives said that while 38 of the 440 concession workers are known to have been rehired, others were turned away and told they are not employed at the arena anymore.

The new law allows workers to pursue a civil lawsuit should the employer not follow the new requirement.

“We’re going to continue to push forward in every way until the workers are back to work,” said Briceno. “If it gets to that point, we’ll sue.”

A Honda Center spokesman didn’t return a message seeking comment.

This is just the latest in a months-long controversy over the workers, who had been employed by Aramark Corp. under contract to the arena.

Arena management decided not to renew that contract at the end of June, instead opting to replace the workers and bring the service in-house.

The workers, some of whom have worked at the arena for more than a decade, fought back, appealing directly to Anaheim Ducks fans and political leaders.

A Voice of OC article in May also triggered a re-examination statewide of tax credit eligibility for the company for laying off and replacing workers.

Ultimately, Democratic state lawmakers passed legislation that requires the Honda Center to continue paying the existing workers for 60 days and then offer them jobs if their work was satisfactory.

Another new law prevents the Honda Center from receiving tax credits for hiring if the replaced workers are paid less.

Union leaders said that despite repeated efforts to speak with Anaheim Arena Management, the company is still refusing to discuss the workers’ future. “We’ve had no communication at all,” said Briceno and called the rebuffing unprecedented.

“I have been working for the union for 22 years,” she said. “Never  throughout the different changes … had we had no communication at all with the new management company.”

Trena Littlejohn, who has worked at the arena for 17 years, said she makes about $12 per hour as a part-time cashier. Her second job at McDonald’s pays $8.25 an hour, she said.

“I can’t support my kids on $8 an hour. I really need my job at Honda. I really value my job at Honda,” said Littlejohn, a single mother of two. “This affects us greatly.”

Management said they’d contact her by June 24 on whether she was rehired but still hasn’t done so, she said.

Brandman is also urging management to sit down with the union.

“I urge AAM to meet in the next 10 days with representatives from UNITE HERE, Local 11 to begin the process of compliance with the new state law,” the councilman wrote in a statement July 2.

Brandman had asked in May for a similar meeting, apparently to no avail.

Anaheim Arena Management has insisted that replacing the workers is only about improving service for customers.

“Our decision to take food service in-house was based solely on our relentless pursuit of giving our customers the very best entertainment experience possible,” the company’s chairman, Michael Schulman, declared in an earlier statement.

The union, meanwhile, questioned why management hasn’t tried using existing resources to help train their longtime workers.

Union leaders pointed to the nonprofit Hospitality Training Academy, which Executive Director Adine Forman says partners with unions, management and government to prepare workers for cooking with upgraded equipment.

Ultimately, Briceno said, she wants to see the union work together with management.

“We’re prepared to collaborate and move the Honda Center forward,” she said. Employees are “willing and ready to continue working there.”

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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