By Sabina Mollot
The unionized workers at The Players who’ve been battling with administrators there for years over the continuation of their contract have finally declared war on the cash-strapped club.
The reason, according to Joe Canela, a bartender there who’s also the club’s union rep, is that he heard through the grapevine that the club is looking to get rid of the unionized employees.
The Gramercy Park institution has been in danger of closing its doors due to money it owes to various parties that’s believed to be around $4 million. Additionally, according to Canela, the club hasn’t been earning much income by renting space out for events because there haven’t been too many of those lately.
“There’s no business in there,” he said. (A scroll through the club’s event calendar, which is on its website, shows numerous private events taking place in the coming week, though it isn’t clear if they’re revenue-producing ones or not.)
The club’s president, Johnnie Planco, declined to comment on union-related issues.
As for the union, Canela said negotiations were supposed to have taken place in September, but instead there hasn’t been any communication.
“We kind of feel betrayed,” he said. “We understood that once the crooked administration was out, the right thing was going to be done,” he added, in reference to the club’s ousting of its longtime executive director, John Martello, back in April. Martello came under fire for giving away spaces for events that would normally be rented, though he defended those events as being part of the programming for members.
At this time, there are around 20 unionized workers — waiters, bartenders and kitchen staffers — around half of them full-time, the other half part-time, working only at events. Earlier in the summer, the club fired the longtime chef at The Players, a $70,000 position, but Canela indicated this was no great loss to the kitchen staff.
Additionally, for the past couple of weeks, he said the club has not paid its workers. During a recent event, some employees were going to walk out in protest, but Canela said he stopped them. Instead, if nothing changes, the union will be holding a rally in a few weeks. Canela added that the workers have the support of some well-known actors, though he wouldn’t name them.
However, in response to the union’s plans, one longtime member, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the club’s leadership isn’t, through its lack of communication, necessarily trying to get rid of the union.
“As far as I know, nobody’s trying to throw them out,” said the member, adding that some members are just hoping the workers’ fees will be renegotiated to make the club’s own fees for events more competitive. “I don’t think they’ve intentionally (disrespected) the workers,” the source added, but the club’s leaders have been busy “trying to keep things afloat. So you forget to do the right thing because you’re in survival mode.”
Another member agreed, saying as far as he knew, club leaders were actually trying to preserve employees’
jobs. Still, he said, he understood why the workers wouldn’t trust that the board or the president has their best interests at heart. This would be because in 2008, the union workers were assured their jobs were safe when the club’s kitchen and bar affairs were turned over to an outside catering company, only to then get fired. They sued to get their jobs back though and won. The catering company is no longer involved at The Players. Still, said the member, at this time, “There is no concerted effort to get rid of the union. The idea that there’s some sort of conspiracy is just not true.”
It was in March when the general membership of the club, through the findings of an internal audit committee, discovered just how heavily the club was bleeding money. As T&V previously reported, this past summer, Planco made a plea to members for donations to pay a tax lien on the club that the city had sold for around $251,500.
“It seems,” Planco shared with members, “that we haven’t made a payment on the payment plan entered in October, 2011 with NYC in almost a year and that is why our lien was sold.”
Other payments the club owed included sales taxes to the state, including interest and penalties (a total of around $49,000), long deferred façade repairs (estimated to be a $325,000 job) and union fees as well as fees for various vendors, though exactly how much even Planco had no idea.
In 2012, Martello had blamed the loss of income at the club on the recession causing members to cancel memberships, which cost around $2,000 a year. However, many club members blame the longtime board members, including Planco, and at a meeting held in June, some members believed they’d have a chance to vote him out. However, the meeting was adjourned before a vote could be held. He was re-elected by the board though.
Planco has told Town & Village there are plans in place to raise cash for the club, though he declined to share what they were. This week, he didn’t respond to a request for comment on the progress of those plans.