Restaurant health inspection reports are the latest part of a dispute between Rockville-based restaurant chain Silver Diner and a union that wants to organize some of its workers.
Unite Here — a New York-based labor union representing workers in industries that include food service, hotels and manufacturing — recently sent news releases to media outlets highlighting inspection reports of Silver Diner.
The union said inspectors found 260 total food safety violations, including 78 “critical” violations, since Jan. 1, 2012, at Silver Diner’s 15 restaurants in Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey.
Silver Diner has corrected all critical violations and is in good standing with county health regulations in all three states, said Vicki Bendure, a Silver Diner spokeswoman.
“All 15 Silver Diner restaurants are in compliance with local health and food safety regulations,” Bendure said. “If they were not in good standing, they would be closed. Silver Diner’s record in Montgomery County is particularly good.”
Unite Here is unfairly targeting the chain because of a months-long union dispute, she said.
“They have picketed restaurants and handed out flyers,” Bendure said. “They have no other reason to have an interest in Silver Diner other than an attempt to organize Silver Diner employees.”
The union is in the midst of an organizing campaign at Silver Diner’s Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport location, said Meghan Cohorst, a Unite Here spokeswoman.
The case has involved the National Labor Relations Board, which in June issued a complaint against Silver Diner, alleging intimidation of workers involved in union activity. That complaint was settled when Silver Diner agreed to read a notice to workers with a NLRB representative present and not to interfere with union activity.
But that was not the driving factor behind the union sending out news releases on the inspection reports, Cohorst said.
“Some of what we do is to look at and analyze restaurants’ inspection reports and other public reports associated with businesses in our industries,” Cohorst said. “In the course of reviewing Silver Diner, we came upon these inspection reports and thought that they would be something that would interest the public.”
Unite Here has analyzed inspections and other reports of businesses besides Silver Diner, she added.
That type of tactic is pretty typical, Bendure said, citing a website that she said detailed excesses by the union. Silver Diner has never been involved with unions in the past, she said.
“There was some changeover in management at BWI Airport, and I believe that’s what triggered this,” Bendure said. “Unite Here saw an opportunity.”
Silver Diner has a strong family and community culture, with many managers working their way up from servers and remaining with the company for a long time, Bendure said. The company also is heavily involved in the community and has raised about $450,000 for area schools through a customer card program called “Eat Well, Do Well” and school fundraisers, she said.
A check of Montgomery County health department inspection reports of restaurants and other food-service establishments in the past two years showed 64 closure notices were handed out, but none of those went to Silver Diner.
The chain’s restaurants in Gaithersburg and Rockville have had seven inspections since Jan. 1, 2012. Both received two critical violations for not storing food at the proper temperature, according to records from the county Health and Human Services’ Licensure and Regulatory Services. Those were noted as being corrected at the time of inspection.
That Unite Here has not gone after any of the food establishments in Montgomery that received closure notices gives Silver Diner executives more reason to believe they are being unfairly targeted, Bendure said.
In the past two years, county inspectors have handed out about 4,000 critical violations, with more than 98 percent of those corrected before they receive a closure notice, according to county records. Almost 10,000 food-service sites passed without receiving any critical violations.
The overwhelming majority of closure notices are temporary, with most establishments correcting the problems “fairly quickly,” said Kenneth Welch, environmental health manager in the county’s licensure and regulatory services unit.
“The time period is dependent on the closure violation,” he said. “Cold and hot holding violations can be corrected on site. Others, such as vermin control, may take a few days until they are able to clean, bring in a pest control business and properly treat.”
Establishment owners who receive closure notices usually meet with county officials to review what is needed to regain compliance. A re-inspection fee of $100 during business hours is charged after closures. The county can issue steeper fines and seek judge’s orders if the facility refuses to comply.