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Central Park Boathouse Workers Walk Out In Protest

CENTRAL PARK — More than 60 waiters, busboys and other workers at the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park went on strike Tuesday, vowing to picket outside the tourist attraction and city landmark until they're allowed to form a union.

Workers say Boathouse management has subjected them to illegal firings, intimidation and sexual harassment in retaliation for attempting to form a union. In April, workers rallied behind the Boathouse, slamming the restaurant's operator Dean Poll for running a "sweatshop" in Central Park.

Sixty-five of the restaurant's 140 workers went on strike, with 20 workers who were off on Tuesday joined by 45 who walked out just before the lunch rush at noon, said John Turchiano, a spokesman for the New York Hotel Trades Council.

Turchiano said the picket line had an almost immediate impact on the Boathouse restaurant's business because tourists and "diehard New Yorkers" alike were unwilling to cross the picket line.

"It's definitely deterring business," Turchiano said. "People are very sympathetic. It's wonderful."

Union organizers claim that 70 percent of the Boathouse staff wants to form a union.

Management shrugged off the walkout, calling it a "publicity stunt" that affected only a small portion of the Boathouse's staff.

The Boathouse's lawyer believes the union is using the strike as a retaliation tactic.

"This walkout is yet another vindictive tactic by Hotel Trades Council President Peter Ward, who wrongly blames Dean Poll for the fact that Tavern on the Green remains closed," said Boathouse attorney David Weissman in a statement. "In truth, it was Ward who was unwilling to agree on a contract — thus costing 400 Tavern employees their jobs."

Poll, who operates the Boathouse under a contract with the Parks Department, won a city contract in 2009 to operate the Tavern on the Green.  But he failed to reach an agreement with the Hotel Trades Council, which represented Tavern workers, and the popular Central Park restaurant subsequently closed.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer issued a statement praising the Boathouse workers for "sending a clear message to Dean Poll."

"If you want to do business with the city of New York, be prepared to treat your workers with dignity and respect," Stringer said in the statement. "I stand by these men and women today, tomorrow and for as long as it takes to resolve this situation."

Stringer, City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and the National Organization for Women have called on the Parks Department to revoke Poll's contract for the restaurant.

In June, several employees filed sexual harassment claims against the restaurant, saying managers pressured them for sex and showed them nude photos at work.

Upper East Side Councilman Dan Garodnick called on the city Tuesday to investigate allegations against the Boathouse.

"Where there’s smoke there’s usually fire — and right now the skies are black over the Boathouse," Garodnick said in a statement. "The constant stream of serious allegations, coupled with management’s disappointing track record even on matters like cooperating with a city audit, raise a lot of concerns."