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Berkeley Bowl workers get new chance for union election

Union rally at Berkeley Bowl in June 2010. Photo: Bob Patterson.

Workers at the Berkeley Bowl on Oregon Street are going to have another chance to decide whether they want a union.

The National Labor Relations Board in late December nullified the election Berkeley Bowl held in June 2010 that decertified the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5. The NLRB has ordered the store management to hold another election in March, according to a letter sent to the company in late December.

The NLRB ordered the new election because of “alleged objectionable conduct of the employer that interfered with exercise of a free and reasonable choice,” according to the letter.

The reason Berkeley Bowl was ordered to redo the vote was because it so clearly violated federal law during the June elections, according to Mike Henneberry, communications director for United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5. “The company was just so blatant about punishing people in favor of the union,” said Henneberry. “They were isolating people, giving tougher jobs to people who supporting the union. They were spying on people.”

Glenn Yasuda, the owner of Berkeley Bowl, could not be reached for comment. In agreeing to hold another union election, Yasuda did not admit to any wrongdoing, according to NLRB documents.

The NLRB also issued a series of guidelines for the election and ordered Berkeley Bowl management to post signs throughout the store telling employees of their rights. The letter states:

  • We will not assign you to more onerous work, or isolate you from your co-workers because of your support for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5.
  • We will not create the impression we are spying on you by monitoring your union activity during non-working times, in non-working areas like the Café/Deli break area.
  • We will not tell you that you cannot distribute union flyers inside the store.
  • We will not tell you that you cannot speak to union representatives inside the store.

Berkeley Bowl has had a contentious relationship with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5. In 2003, workers at the Oregon Street store voted not to unionize, but the vote was overturned when the NLRB found that the store’s unfair labor practices were so “pervasive and serious” that a fair election was impossible. In 2004, workers voted to have UFCW represent them and the ensuing contract ushered in new benefits.

When the contract expired in 2010, instead of engaging in collective bargaining, Berkeley Bowl management supported efforts to decertify the union, said Hennenberry.

Workers at the store voted on June 23, 210 to decertify the union by a 99 to 74 margin. Shortly after the election, the UFCW filed more than 40 grievances with the NLRB. The late December letter deals with four of those complaints; the others are pending.

The workers at Berkeley Bowl West, which opened in the summer of 2009, are not unionized. Although the UFCW has a organizing unit in the store, it has not called for a union vote yet since it does not think it will be successful, said Henneberry.

Henneberry said he was not sure why Yasuda is so opposed to unions.

“This guy has a philosophical problem with unions,” said Henneberry.  “For a guy with two stores in the most liberal area in the country, it baffles me.”

The union election is tentatively set for March 23.

UPDATE 12:20 pm Dan Kataoaka, part of the management team of Berkeley Bowl, sent an email this morning concerning the upcoming union election. Here it is:

“One important thing your readers should know is that the petition to decertify the union was initiated, signed and filed with the NLRB by employees of the store – not Berkeley Bowl “officials” or anyone in management.  This fact has not been disputed by the union or the NLRB.  This petition tells us the employees are not happy with their representation from the UFCW and don’t see the value in having the union represent them.  Although we agreed to settle the union’s objections to the election with a rerun election, the decertification petition is still intact because it is a valid petition from the employees of the store.

The NLRB did not order us to have a rerun election – that was our decision.  We had the option of going through a trial and having a judge decide the merits of the union’s objections.  A major reason for deciding on a rerun election was because it did not appear to be in the best interest of the employees to continue litigating for months and years to come.

If you recall, in the initial decertification election, a majority of our employees voted against union representation.  Regardless of what the union and certain members of the community claim, we believe the results of that election reflect the true sentiments of the majority of our employees on the union issue.  It has always been our position to support the will of the majority of our employees, and we will continue to do so.”

Interested in issues surrounding running a business in Berkeley? Be sure to attend Berkeleyside’s first Local Business Forum on Monday January 24, 7-9pm at the Freight & Salvage. Doors open at 6.30 and it’s free.

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  • John Galt

    “This guy has a philosophical problem with unions,” said Henneberry. “For a guy with two stores in the most liberal area in the country, it baffles me.”

    Uh, Mr. Henneberry, what is so baffling? Mr. Yasuda doesn’t want blood-sucking, corrupt union goons ruining his business… the way the unions ruined so many other businesses in this country during the last 60 years.

    Give ‘em hell, Mr. Yasuda!

  • April

    I also don’t understand why not wanting a union is so baffling to Mr. Henneberry. I’m a post-doc at UC and I’ve been forced into a union that will do me no good. Unions are not some benevolent overseer, they have agendas and motives that often cause trouble for businesses and employees alike (ie getting dues from members to perpetuate the union). Unions often remove the ability of an individual to negotiate with their employer. Liberals may like the thought of unions helping the down-trodden, but very few liberals would actually want to be forced into a union.

  • http://www.ufcw5.org Mike Henneberry

    John and April need calm down and take a deep breath. Unions are the last best hope workers have for improving their wages and benefits and maintaning a voice at work. It’s pretty apparent from Galt’s rant that he’s not very familiar with workplace issues. April at least is a member of the grad students local at UC but doesn’t like paying dues. Unions aren’t about being “benevolent overseers” as she says, they’re about improving the lives of their members and families. I don’t know what agenda she’s on about the union having that causes problems for employers and members, but if she’s referring to improving living standards we plead guilty.

  • Bryan Garcia

    I agree with Henneberry.

    And if you don’t like certain aspects of your union or what they do, then get involved in changing things. Unions are democratically accountable. An autocratic employer is not.

  • Josh A

    However you feel about unions, the law is the law, and he should follow it. And if the finding is true, that he assigned employees more onerous tasks because they supported the union, well, that is wrong and pretty distasteful.

  • elmwood neighbor

    I haven’t stepped foot into Berkeley Bowl since June 23, 2010.

  • April

    Um, I’m perfectly calm and not a grad student, I don’t think you read my post at all. I am represented by the United Auto Workers, who post-docs (not grad students but people who already have Ph.D.s) into their union to keep UAW afloat once the auto industry tanked, not to provide any service to post-docs. By the nature of our unique in-between status post-docs don’t lend ourselves well to union organization, despite the beliefs of a few outgoing post-docs in the humanities.

  • G

    Unions have done more to raise prices across the board for consumers than any other group. They are using California’s government to get money through taxes, consumer goods, you name it, to pay for their own special needs and demands. They are anti-business, anti-competition, and anti-innovation.

  • Eric Panzer

    I can understand both sides of this argument. Unions have historically played a very positive role in our economy and democracy, but there are also plenty of contemporary examples of some pretty dubious practices. Though originally formed to protect workers’ rights, prevent exploitation, and help ensure a middle class lifestyle, some unions now devote just as much, if not more energy to sheltering incompetent or malfeasant workers and seeking exactions from their private or public employers. One need look no further than SF MUNI or the history of the NUMMI auto plant to see that unions have not always played a positive role.

    There’re plenty of reasons for employers to be wary of unionization, and for workers to be either supportive or opposed. So let the worker’s vote; keep it clean, keep it legal.

  • john holland

    Whether you have a “philosophical problem with unions” or you believe that “unions are the best hope for workers”, if you have any integrity at all, you believe in a fair process.

    I was inspired by this story of how an electrician’s union used an anonymous blog that empowered employees to organize anonymously and freely without fear of repercussions.

    So, I decided to set up a similar blog for Berkeley Bowl employees to organize anonymously so that they can determine their own fate without the same dirty tricks from management as before:

    Berkeley Bowl Union Blog

    This is not a forum for the community to debate the merits of a Berkeley Bowl union, or the merits of unions in general. It is a forum for workers to organize. You can follow the blog on twitter: @berkbowlunion

  • john holland

    @g wrote, “Unions have done more to raise prices across the board for consumers than any other group”

    Then you can shop at Walmart. They have no union, and low prices. Enjoy.

  • John Hunt

    Hav people in this country really forgotten the incredibly important contribution unions have made to our wages, working conditions etc..? Of course no organized group with power is perfect whether it be the Catholic church, the federal government or a union. But if you want see what life is like for workers who have never had union representation to balance the greed of capitalism. How about a trip to Firestone’s Liberian rubber plantaion?

  • Itzkarend

    thanks ,Mr,Dan for telling,what happen ,1 more favor get lajoz valaz,out off the company,he is always,smoking weed.,and he is lazy. worker ,good for nothing ,I’m,a b.b,worker.yes ask around.everybody ,will .let you know,that.or make him have a blood test…… thanks ,,,,,,,, ,,loveberkeley bowl,!

  • Sharkey

    “unions ruined so many other businesses”

    OK, if there really are that many, can you name 10 private-sector businesses that were “ruined” by unions?
    For the sake of avoiding duplicate entries, no more than 4 companies on the list may be automotive manufacturers.