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Union Members Rally Behind Central Park Boathouse Workers

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — Cries of "No justice, no peace" echoed through Central Park on Thursday as hundreds of union members rallied outside the Loeb Boathouse to support its workers and slam their boss, restaurateur Dean Poll.

The rally, organized by the New York Hotel Trades Council union, was meant to draw attention to alleged abuses by Poll, who runs the Boathouse under a contract with the Parks Department.

The union says Poll fired employees who supported the union's attempts to organize workers, and threatened to close the restaurant if workers unionize.

The Boathouse's lawyer, David Weissman, called those charges "frivolous" in a statement handed out to press at the protest, and said the rally was an attempt by the union to force its will on employees.

But to the pumped-up crowd chanting "Si se puede," Poll is the one forcing his will on workers. Union members wore T-shirts with the slogan "Dump Dean" and waved signs with slogans such as "Hey Dean, Stop Breaking the Law."

Hotel Trades Council general organizer Jim Donovan pointed to the lakeside Boathouse restaurant a few hundred feet from the rally and told the crowd that "ugly things" were happening inside.

"A sweatshop is operating right here in Central Park," Donovan said. "Working people, mostly immigrants, are being abused and their legal rights are being blatantly violated inside that building and we are not going to put up with it."

Borough President Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Council members Gale Brewer and Melissa Mark-Viverito were also on hand to bash Poll and back the union.

Stringer referred to recent "union busting" in Wisconsin, where elected officials have tried to limit unions' collective bargaining power.

"We're drawing a line in the sand in New York City, we're not going to let hard working people get shafted because of someone's own personal empire-building agenda," Stringer said.

Poll won the city contract to operate the now-closed Tavern on the Green in 2009, but he failed to reach an agreement with the Hotel Trades Council, which represented Tavern workers.

The crowd included workers from hotels across the city and state. Among them was Anna Rubarsky, a 40-year-old waitress at the Gideon Putnam Resort in Saratoga Springs.

Rubarsky said she and her fellow hotel workers rode a bus for three hours to attend Thursday's rally in support of the Boathouse employees.

"I think what they're doing to the workers is just not right," Rubarsky said.

A few puzzled tourists strolling through the park on a sunny day stopped to gawk at the rally. Some snapped quick photos before police shooed them away.