Did a Union Really Form at Lodi? It’s Not So Simple.

Outside Lodi in Rockefeller Center. Photo: Colin Clark/The New York Times

Last week, the Restaurant Workers Union, an organizing group for hospitality workers, posted some news on Instagram. “We have a union at Lodi!” it announced, writing that the National Labor Relations Board had declared a failed union vote that took place in February at the Rockefeller Center restaurant to be “invalid.” This would mark a major victory for the upstart worker-led union: Formed in April 2020, the RWU had tried unsuccessfully to organize other restaurants before, and Lodi is an especially prominent business run by the chef Ignacio Mattos and serving as an anchor for Tishman Speyer’s redevelopment of Rockefeller Center’s restaurants. Members of the industry — including the FOH podcast and Mattos’s former pastry chef Natasha Pickowicz — reposted the news and offered their congratulations to the new union.

In truth, there is no union at Lodi yet. “There’s definitely been no decision,” says a spokesperson for the restaurant. “I would rather not say that the union is sharing misinformation, but it is patently untrue that Lodi is unionized or that NLRB is demanding that Lodi bargain.”

So what’s going on? While the NLRB is expected to publish its complaint within 30 days, an administrative judge hasn’t yet issued an order to bargain. The case is expected to go to trial next year, and in the meantime, RWU is taking a confident stance.

This past August, the NLRB’s five-member board changed “the framework” for recognizing unions. Here is where it gets a little complicated:

Under the new framework, when a union requests recognition on the basis that a majority of employees in an appropriate bargaining unit have designated the union as their representative, an employer must either recognize and bargain with the union or promptly file an RM petition seeking an election. However, if an employer who seeks an election commits any unfair labor practice that would require setting aside the election, the petition will be dismissed, and — rather than re-running the election — the Board will order the employer to recognize and bargain with the union. 

The Lodi vote took place in February. Fifteen separate unfair-labor-practices charges were filed by the RWU — including surveillance of employees, incitement of racial hatred, and illegal captive-audience meetings — and a rep for the union notes that the NLRB found merit in most. Now an administrative judge must decide whether Lodi’s management violated the law with its response. If that’s found to be the case, Mattos Hospitality, which runs Lodi, will have to recognize the union automatically because a majority of employees have signed union cards.

Naoki Fujita, an attorney representing the RWU, believes the odds are in the union’s favor: “We only need to prove one of the allegations, so even if we lost half of them, we’ll get a bargaining order.”

Where things go from now will depend on Mattos Hospitality, Fujita says. The restaurant group could choose to settle. If it doesn’t, the case will be heard by an administrative judge, likely in February or March, though it could be drawn out by appeals to the NLRB board. He doesn’t see why Mattos Hospitality would go to trial.

“Our stance is that it was an entirely free and fair election,” Lodi’s spokesperson adds, “and we’re going to honor the vote of the workforce.”

This story has been updated with additional information about the unfair-labor-practices charges.

Did a Union Really Form at Lodi? It’s Not So Simple.