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Labor Leader Cries 'Foul' Over Fast Food Layoffs

March 22, 2006 — An official from the V.I. Workers Union says a complaint will be filed to the National Labor Relations Board over termination notices given to unionized fast food workers in the territory.
The restaurants in question — Kentuck Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut restaurants on St. Thomas and St. Croix — were reportedly sold to a new group, Kazi Foods of the Virgin Islands.
Workers Union President Charles Nicholas said the workers' union received a letter to that effect, and workers also received letters informing them that all employees covered by a union contract would be terminated.
Nicholas says those workers are still protected, even though some KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants are now operating under new ownership.
However, Luis "Tito" Morales, the head of the Central Labor Council — an umbrella group that works with all unions in the Virgin Islands — says all workers in the affected restaurants are not covered because none of the KFCs in St. Thomas are unionized, while some on St. Croix are.
Nicholas says he is asking Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin to intervene. "This is a very serious issue that goes beyond the Virgin Islands Workers Union. It is a territorial labor issue," he said in a statement issued earlier this week.
"It's a tactic that the management is coming back with, trying to break the backbone of the union," he said. "That's why we filed the unfair labor practices [claim] with the National Labor Relations Board," Nicholas said.
Nicholas is calling on unionized fast food workers affected by the management change to check in with their union representatives and avoid meetings called for by the old management at KFC and Pizza Hut.
The labor leader said successor clauses that protect union workers when businesses change hands will protect members of the V.I. Workers Union.
But Morales said not all KFC workers — and none of the Pizza Hut workers — are covered by the union contract. Those who aren't, he said, cannot depend on labor law to protect them.
"I understand from the V.I. Labor Union, they have a contract with Kentucky Fried Chicken on St. Croix, but they do not have a contract with Kentucky Fried Chicken on St. Thomas, nor Pizza Hut. They [the new owners] will have to recognize their [the workers] contract; once they [the new owners] keep 51 percent of the people, they have to recognize the contract, because there is a successor clause in the contract, and they are the successor employer. However, the others that are not unionized will have to go through the Labor Department and have to deal with the Plant Closure Act," Morales said.
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