Crowne Plaza JFK Inn Trouble Amid Labor Unrest, Brand Dispute

The recent donnybrooks at the Crowne Plaza JFK make Fawlty Towers look like a model for hotel management.

Not only has the hotel operator been treating his employees like dirt—the staff members, which once numbered 70, have not gotten regular paychecks since October; not only has the State Department of Taxation seized the hotel’s restaurant, banquet facilities and several vacant guest rooms because the operator owes more than $500,000 in sales tax; but, in the coup de grâce, InterContinental Hotels Group, owner of the Crowne Plaza flag, has severed relations with the operation.

“As a franchisor, we have brand standards that franchised hotels must comply with; however, we do not control the day-to-day operations of franchised hotels since they are independently owned and operated,” wrote Monica Smith, an IHG spokeswoman, in an email. “The Crowne Plaza JFK Airport was terminated from the [InterContinental Hotels Group] system September 2008.”

Comments on TripAdvisor.com seem to suggest few, if any, standards were being met.

“Do not stay at this hotel!” wrote Tim Goldberg from California on Dec. 4. “When it was time to check out, there was no shuttle bus to JFK, because the shuttle took employees to cash [their] checks, which they said [were] bouncing. When the shuttle arrived, the driver said there was no gas in the bus.”

It was in October 2003 that Crowne Plaza Hotels proudly announced the expansion of its brand into New York City with the 183-room hotel, complete with “a 24-hour reception desk, express checkout, fitness center, concierge, gift shop, business center, valet parking and complimentary newspaper.” The hotel, with its distinctive concave facade, squats near the entrance to J.F.K. Airport, at the intersection of the Van Wyck Expressway and the Belt Parkway. A hotel industry source said there’s no reason why the hotel should be doing poorly, given that other area hotels are “flourishing.” Meanwhile, an employee told us he and his colleagues are infuriated.

“I don’t know what the hell is going on,” he said. “They don’t pay. They won’t give us a full accounting.”

The independent operator, CPJFK LLC, is, according to multiple sources, affiliated with Kronos Hotels LLC, whose Web site is no longer operational. According to city records, Kronos took out a $9 million and a $750,000 loan from Fortress Credit Corp., which declined a request for comment.

The Atlanta-based Kronos Hotels purchased the hotel in 2006 and spent $1 million rehabbing it, according to news reports. Malaysia’s home minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, reportedly spoke at the hotel’s reopening in 2007.

This is not the first Kronos hotel that has gone under in recent weeks. The St. Louis–based Suburban Journals reported in December that Kronos lost control of a St. Peters Holiday Inn after failing to pay vendors and taxes. And, according to a December article in Lancaster Online, three Kronos hotels in Pennsylvania were recently put into receivership.

Meanwhile, the hotel’s remaining staff continues to wrangle with the hotel operator as the Crowne Plaza remains a barely functioning lodge.

“The union has told the workers that it will pursue every legal avenue so that they get any money owed to them and their jobs are preserved if possible,” said a union source. Hotel Voice, the weekly paper for the Hotel Trades Council, reported in December that the union has gone into emergency arbitration with hotel management.

According to Hotel Voice, arbitrator Ira Drogin wrote in his Dec. 2 ruling that he regretted not having “the authority to seek criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment” against the operators for their “clearly illegal acts.” For what it’s worth, he also ordered Kronos to pay back wages.