BERKELEY, Calif. - A long-simmering labor struggle at the popular Berkeley Bowl Marketplace supermarket has taken a new turn with the National Labor Relations Board's year-end announcement that it has ordered a rerun of a June 2010 election to decertify United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.
The NLRB found management had engaged in so much "alleged objectionable conduct" that the June election must be nullified. The NLRB's settlement agreement included requiring the company to post a notice that it would not punish workers for participating in union activities, and the board's demand that the company create an atmosphere appropriate for a new election.
That election has been set for March 23. The store currently employs 192 workers.
Local 5 President Ron Lind credited the perseverance of UFCW members employed at the store for the victory. At a recent strategy meeting in Berkeley, Lind said, "Our members have seen this employer throw every dirty trick in the book at them and they still have the wherewithal to keep fighting. It is amazing and gratifying to see." Lind noted that management used the services of high-priced attorneys and even brought in labor consultant Bob Tiernan - chair of the Oregon State Republican Party - in a futile effort to break the members.
The NLRB decision dealt with four of the 40 unfair labor practices charges Local 5 had filed after the June election. The other charges are still pending. Local 5 maintains that until charges are resolved, the workers' contract still applies. The union has been negotiating with management and enforcing the grievance procedure, with two fired workers - Olimpia Moreno and Vicki Shi - restored to their jobs with full back pay.
Among other requirements, the notice the NLRB required Berkeley Bowl to post says the company will not assign employees to "onerous" work or isolate them from co-workers because of their support for Local 5 or any other union. Berkeley Bowl management also promised "not to create the impression we are spying on you by monitoring your union activity during non-working time, in non-work areas," not to limit union reps' access to back areas of the store, or tell workers they can't distribute union fliers inside the store or speak to co-workers about the union.
The current struggle has deep roots . The Berkeley Bowl long resisted its workers' desire to have a union. After George Bush's NLRB in 2005 upheld earlier unfair labor practices charges by the union, the Bowl workers have been among some 26,000 grocery and other workers Local 5 represents in the San Francisco Bay area.
Photo: On June 10, 2010, dozens of community supporters converged on the store to let its customers know about the workers' situation. Marilyn Bechtel/PW