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Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Fat Lady Sang

And it's over. The last steak was served. The last toast was raised. And the last beer was drunk. Fran O'Brien's closed.

I was there Friday night. When I first went in, the place was alive with hope. Our waiter, Tony, told us that there was talk of a reprieve. An extension of the lease by a few months to allow Fran's owners, Marty O'Brien and Hal Koster, to find a new location. The four of us in my party were joyful as we raised our glasses of wine and ordered the ribeye for what we never dreamed was going to be our last time. In fact, Tony urged one of our companions to come back - our guests work just blocks away in the AFL-CIO building.

Indeed, besides the veterans who came every Friday night, Fran's was a lunchtime favorite for many in the AFL-CIO. On any given day, you could see John Sweeney, the president of organized labor, holding forth at a table with many of the other labor leaders.

And at the bottom of Fran O'Brien's website it announced, "proud to be a union shop."

And that was the 500 pound gorilla that nobody really wanted to talk about. Besides being embarrassed to have badly wounded and scruffy looking Iraqi veterans in their lobby, the Hilton was resentful that the restaurant served the likes of Sweeney and other labor leaders.

You see, the Hilton is in a battle with the hotel and restaurant employees' union UNITE HERE. They may even go to strike later this year. Indeed, one of the favorite topics of discussion around the AFL building had been what to do about going to Fran's if HERE threw up a picket line.

The ins and outs of the discussion often reached Talmudic proportions in its minute examination of every aspect of the issue before it was finally pronounced "kosher" to enter Fran's from the street entrance. Fran's has a separate entrance from the Hilton and HERE did not plan to picket that entrance, hence it would not be crossing a picket line.

The Hilton has had some pretty nasty dealings with it employees. It's not known in the hotel business as a particularly compassionate company as this report from Mudville Gazette, one of the military blogs, demonstrates:
"Update: Looks like Lisa Cole, the regional director of communications for Hilton quoted above, is a busy gal:
'About a month after an emergency room visit found Nina Kennedy had Stage 4 colon and liver cancer, her supervisors from Hilton Grand Vacations called her with more bad news.

"They told her she was fired," West Palm Beach attorney Charles Thomas said Thursday.
Kennedy had been the manager of the Plantation Beach Club on Hutchinson Island for 2 1/2 years when she was terminated in December after working 13 years with the company.

Regional directors told her she had been fired because she violated company policy, she said. But in a lawsuit filed in Martin Circuit Court Thursday, Kennedy and Thomas said the company hid its reasons behind a much stronger motive.

"They knew that she had a potentially terminal illness, she would have been out for a while and they didn't want to deal with it," Thomas said. <...>Hilton spokeswoman Lisa Cole said she had not seen the lawsuit Thursday and that, as a practice, the company cannot comment on open cases."

These are not nice people. Not only are they not nice to organized labor, whose leaders can, after all, take care of themselves and find another favorite hangout, but they're not nice to their employees, and they'd rather boot out veterans who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and who came home limbless just to prove a petty point about being anti-labor.

Oh, and their attitude toward the ill and disabled couldn't be more obvious than by the way they treated their own employee. Funny, when my husband had cancer, years ago, his company rallied round him and did everything they could to make sure he knew he would have a job to come back to and that his wife, me, would have anything she needed for however long we both needed it.

Oh yeah, my husband works for a union, not a Hilton.

But is it really a stretch, after reading that, to believe the charge that the Hilton didn't want severely disabled and disfigured veterans in their lobby?

Anyway, farewell Fran's for now. Hopefully you'll be up at a new location soon. Meanwhile, the Italian embassy has offered it's location for the Friday night dinners to continue and a non-profit charity has been set up. I will provide more details as I hear them.

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