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Pritzker cruise company takes 180, now supports union effort

J.B. Pritzker was criticized after a company he co-owns, SeaDog Cruises, issued an anti-union flyer. | Sun-Times files

A day after the pro-union Democratic candidate for governor, J.B. Pritzker, was confronted on camera about union-busting activities at a company owned by his venture capital firm, Entertainment Cruises has changed its tune regarding its employees’ attempt to unionize.

Entertainment Cruises issued a statement on Friday saying that the company, which is owned by the Pritzker Group, supports “the right of our shipmates to engage in organization activities” and “respects this right and will conduct itself throughout the [unionization] process with integrity and fairness.”

The statement, first reported by Capitol Fax, is an about-face from what Entertainment Cruises had been saying earlier in the week. On Tuesday, an employee tweeted a picture of a memo that the company posted in the ticket booths and break room of SeaDog Cruises, which runs cruises out of Navy Pier and is owned by Entertainment Cruises, that read: “There’s only one way to guarantee that you can avoid the problems a union could possibly cause. Just SAY NO!”

That employee, Billy Dean, also said that management tried to spread rumors that he and his coworkers will no longer be able to collect tips if they unionize. Dean called Pritzker a hypocrite for campaigning as a pro-union candidate while actively fighting one at his own business.

“We work ten- to 15- hour days, often with no breaks, and we deserve representation!” tweeted Dean, who also wrote that his coworkers were “getting scared by intimidation, rumor campaigns and captive meetings” on the part of management.

Dean initially confronted Pritzker as he was walking away from a Chicago AFL-CIO luncheon on Wednesday afternoon. He says Pritzker told him, “You know where I stand,” although audio from a video of the exchange was difficult to hear.

Meanwhile, Pritzker tweeted that he was “proud to stand in solidarity with labor.”

Pritzker’s campaign later told WTTW that the candidate “supports workers’ right to organize and he believes the process should be fair, open, and free of intimidation. … JB has stepped away from Pritzker Group and is no longer involved in the management of the company.”

On Thursday, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) wrote Pritzker’s office a letter ripping the company’s opposition. “Mr. Pritzker, you are one of the richest men in the world, and I find it shocking that you would oppose an organizing effort,” Ramirez-Rosa wrote. “… Given your stated support for unions and collective bargaining, I find it hypocritical that your company, Entertainment Cruises is openly union-busting.”

Pritzker was stopped on Thursday in downtown Chicago by members of the Chicago and Midwest Joint Board of Workers United, which the SeaDog workers sought to join, and asked him a second time about the union-squashing activities. This time Pritzker can clearly be heard speaking out against SeaDog’s actions.

“My view is that the company didn’t do the right thing putting out the flyer that they put out. I want free and fair elections. The company shouldn’t stand against the union if you all sit down and work it out,” he said.

He also noted that he “stepped away” from involvement in Entertainment Cruises 20 months ago. “The first time I saw the flyer was your tweet,” Pritzker said. Pritzker also agreed to meet with the SeaDog employees.

Several hours later, Entertainment Cruises issued its pro-union statement.

Dean did not respond for comment but noted on Twitter that he was scheduled to work from 9 a.m. to midnight Friday.