Famous as the self-declared “home of the silver butter knife steak,” Murray’s restaurant in downtown Minneapolis – long a union house – now has stabbed its employees in the back with one of those silver butter knives. And twisted it.
Murray’s wrote to employees February 16 that the business would impose a contract in the wake of two votes by UNITE HERE Local 17 members there to reject unsatisfactory contract offers.
The contract management imposed cuts wages 10 percent for all employees except servers, makes it impossible for employees to continue to afford health insurance, slashes paid vacations, and eliminates free meals and uniforms.
Management also declared an open shop and announced that paychecks for the restaurant’s 37 workers no longer would automatically deduct union dues.
To write a letter condemning union-busting at Murray’s:
“There’s a lot of us at Murray’s who would like to meet them halfway but they want to take it all and take the union down with it,” said one longtime employee, who feared to be named publicly. “We just want a win-win situation but they want it all.”
Many of the employees have worked at Murray’s 10, 20, 30 years. “It was very disheartening to think we meant so little to them,” he said.
“I’ve had health insurance for 20 years at Murray’s,” said one longtime server, who also feared to be named. “Now there’s no bartenders, servers or busboys who will be able to get insurance.”
The imposed contract requires that employees must work 120 hours per month (up from 75) to qualify for insurance – but no one works enough shifts normally to accrue that many hours, workers said. The contract also caps the employer’s health insurance contribution at $100 a month, leaving some employees with a premium exceeding $400 per month.
“Half of us down there are over 50, we need the health insurance,” said another longtime server who also wished to remain anonymous. “It’s a sad day. It’s a sad day for the senior people.” She, like others, has “pre-existing conditions.” She asked: “How in the hell are we going to get insurance?”
“What’s really important here is a good deal of public pressure,” said UNITE HERE Local 17 president Nancy Goldman. “They want these workers to give up everything.”
“I’m going to ask that all of Labor stay out of that place,” Goldman said, reporting to the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation’s March 10 delegate meeting. She said Local 17 would be sending other local unions a letter asking them to stay away from Murray’s and urging them to spread the word about what has happened there.
“We’ve got to ask our partners to not patronize Murray’s and send a letter,” agreed Bill McCarthy, president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.
“This is pure and simple union-busting,” said McCarthy, who formerly served as Local 17 president and business representative and negotiated contracts with Murray’s.
“They’ve been a union establishment since the 1940s,” McCarthy noted. “Now they found the opportunity in a bad economy to blame the workers for their mismanagement.”
“We’ve been negotiating with Murray’s since September,” Goldman told MRLF delegates. “They came to the bargaining table with 25 proposals, including deleting union shop and [dues] check-off.”
“They wanted a lot of take-backs,” Goldman said. “Clearly, the business was doing poorly.”
For the union, the proposals to end union shop and dues-check off could not be negotiated. As for the other proposals, Goldman added, “they never offered to me what their business plan was going forward if we made all those concessions.”
Murray’s, located at 26 S. 6th St., is a third-generation, family-owned restaurant currently run by Tim Murray. And for three generations, Murray’s has been that special restaurant where many Twin Citians go for special occasions. Murray’s is – or perhaps was – the last free-standing union restaurant in downtown Minneapolis.
Goldman said Tim Murray rebuffed her creative suggestion that the restaurant consider moving to a vacant restaurant space in the Hilton Hotel. By relocating to the Hilton, she noted, the business would be closer to the convention center and have a built-in clientele from hotel guests.
“The Hilton is receptive to it,” Goldman reported. But not the Murray family. “They just want to do what they’ve always been doing there and they want the workers to pay for it.”
For Goldman, Murray’s betrayal of long-time employees by putting their health insurance out of reach now that they are in their 50s or 60s is reprehensible. “Now when they need their insurance the most, he’s made it impossible for them.”
Even employees who were being cut from three or four weeks of vacation to two weeks after many years of service understood that they might need to make some concessions. “But I don’t want to give up everything,” one longtime worker said.
“We’ve always been able to work through things but they didn’t want to work through things,” Goldman said. “They didn’t want to bargain.”