Union Drive Under Way at New Berkeley Bowl

Thanks to intervention by the mayor and city council, the effort seems free of the rancor of the past.

Organized labor’s top priority for the Obama administration, the
Employee Free Choice Act, may be dead in the water in Washington, DC.
But something like the act, with its simplified “card check” election
that union organizers prefer, is alive and well in Berkeley.

An agreement between management at the new Berkeley Bowl West
grocery store and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 5
reached just two weeks before opening day in June had union leaders
crowing. With the agreement, the union won a promise of complete
“neutrality” on the part of Berkeley Bowl management while an
organizing drive is under way at the new store. The agreement reads in
part that Berkeley Bowl management will “not make disparaging comments
about the union, its leadership, or union representation nor shall
representatives of management attempt to influence employees in any

According to UFCW Local 5 spokesperson, Mike Henneberry, the typical
organizing campaign is met with the strongest resistance legally
possible, such as “captive audience” meetings where employees are
compelled to listen to hours of anti-union propaganda. So management
neutrality is a big deal.This agreement comes on the heels of a long
and difficult history between the union and the Bowl. An ugly battle
was waged at the Oregon Street Berkeley Bowl in 2005. “The company
committed so many unlawful acts against its own workers [the] charges
were upheld by George Bush’s NLRB,” Henneberry said. Since 2005, UFCW
Local 5 has represented hundreds of workers at the original store and
is likely to get the votes they need to represent Berkeley Bowl West as
well in the coming weeks.

“This is really a model of how labor relations questions of
representation should be exercised throughout the United States,” said
Ron Lind, president of UFCW Local 5, as he thanked the Berkeley City
Council for its support the day the agreement was publicly announced.
“Much of this is similar to what is contained in the Employee Free
Choice Act, and more.”

Indeed, things might not have gone so smoothly for the union if it
hadn’t been for the willingness of Berkeley’s elected officials to step
into the fray. The city council passed a resolution supporting a “card
check” election for the new store long before it was ready to open for
business. More recently, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates was instrumental in
getting the two sides to sit down together.

“Berkeley Bowl is a great business in our city,” said Bates, adding
that the new location is a regional asset that is attracting shoppers
to Berkeley from throughout the East Bay. “I really didn’t want to see
the new Berkeley Bowl start off on the wrong foot.” Bates said he
convinced the owners of the Berkeley Bowl, Glenn and Diane Yasuda, that
despite their reluctance it was in everyone’s best interest for the new
Berkeley Bowl to be a union shop.

“We at Berkeley Bowl have put aside our personal feelings regarding
the procedure used in allowing employees to decide the union issue
primarily because we do not want labor problems to disrupt the city,
our community, our customers, and our employees,” said Dan Kataoka, a
manager with Berkeley Bowl, in his short statement announcing the
agreement reached with the union. Representatives with the Berkeley
Bowl declined to comment for this story beyond remarks already given

“Our position has always been to allow our employees to decide
whether or not they wanted representation,” Kataoka said. “If they want
the union, we will support them. If they do not want the union we will
support them. It is their decision, as is rightly so.”

The agreement allowed for at least ninety days, which have now
passed, for the new store to get up and running before the union would
begin its organizing campaign. The agreement also included a 45-day
window for UFCW Local 5 organizers to try to gather a majority of card
check signatures of the workers to vote on union representation. That
window closes at the end of this month.

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