PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — KDKA has an update on an investigation into the ongoing dispute between the Omni William Penn Hotel and the workers union over a Paycheck Protection Program loan.
Last week, KDKA investigator Meghan Schiller interviewed two furloughed employees of the Omni William Penn Hotel. Both claimed they hadn’t worked a day since March.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Pennsylvania: Nursing Home Deaths Fueling Blame
“Really, the employees built up this place and now they feel like they’re being abandoned,” said Will Arthur, a furloughed employee.
“Providing food, toiletries, clothing, just all-around life with three children, it’s really hard,” added Zebedee Williams, another furloughed employee.
Both claimed they had not seen a paycheck from the hotel’s $3.5 million PPP loan.
Omni Hotels and Resorts is headquartered in Dallas, Texas. It’s a private company and told KDKA it does not have to disclose financial information. For that reason, it did not originally offer KDKA’s Meghan Schiller a breakdown of how much of the Pittsburgh hotel’s $3.5 million PPP loan wound up in the pockets of union employees.
But after KDKA’s story aired last week, the Omni claimed the hotel workers’ union, UNITE Here, lied and the workers did receive money.
We took those concerns to Nia Winston, UNITE Here’s general vice president.
“Show us the receipts, show us the proof of what you have done, and the facts will be the facts,” said Winston.
Winston told KDKA she stands by her allegation that the hotel failed to disperse its $3.5 million loan to its laid-off employees. The union represents 262 employees at the Omni William Penn, including Arthur and Williams.
After our first story aired, Kristen Cadenhead, Omni’s director of communications, sent KDKA an email saying, “It’s important to note that Ms. Winston, UNITE Here’s local union president, lied to you, and thereby KDKA’s viewers.”READ MORE: 'The Neighborhood Jewel': Community Fights To Save St. Philip School In Crafton From Closing
The email continued, saying the “Omni William Penn has used over $2M of its PPP loan for payroll and benefit expenses as the hotel, and a significant portion of that amount was for the benefit of union associates. Furthermore, as a brand, we have used more than $51M, a vast majority of all loans for all of our hotels, for payroll and benefit expenses.”
KDKA’s Meghan Schiller asked Cadenhead, “What exactly does payroll and benefit expenses mean?” KDKA wanted to find out how much of the $3.5 million loan went to employee paychecks.
Cadenhead answered as follows:
Our union associates at Omni William Penn are represented by five different unions. Across all of these unions, we have paid close to $750k towards a variety of eligible employee related expenses, including regular pay, overtime pay, holiday pay, vacation pay, meal stipends and pension contributions.
KDKA relayed this answer to Winston, who continued to ask the Omni for what she called “receipts.”
“Where does these $2 million come from? Are you saying you gave $2 million to 16 workers that were working through a particular period of time?” said Winston.
Winston checked her numbers and told KDKA the Omni did recall 16 of the union’s 262 employees to do work for seven weeks last spring and summer. But she alleges that’s a far cry from dedicating the $3.5 million to furloughed employees.
“None of our laid-off workers, none of them, have received anything. So I would like to ask the Omni to show us the receipt,” said Winston.
Winston told KDKA the union knows its furloughed employees didn’t receive funds because it cannot subtract union dues from nonexistent paychecks.
The Omni declined to do an on-camera interview but did say it’s currently accepting reservations at Omni William Penn beginning April 1.
“However, that’s not a concrete reopening date as it depends on business volumes which, at present, are very low,” said Cadenhead.MORE NEWS: Pa. Sen. Bob Casey Sponsors Bill To Protect Children From Falling Furniture
Winston told KDKA that the tentative reopening date is news to her, saying the union’s workers have yet to be called back to the job.