Berkeley Bowl Soon to Be Non-Union Again

Contract set to expire on July 31st

The original location of the famed East Bay grocery institution Berkeley Bowl will return to being a non-union shop after workers voted to decertify the union.

It's a big blow to the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, and as before the shop originally unionized in 2004, management has been accused of "anti-union tactics" by union supporters and the Berkeley City Council.

In 2003, Berkeley Bowl management engaged in what the National Labor Relations Board determined to be unfair labor practices.

The UFCW had asked management to begin contract negotiations this year, but in May the necessary 30 percent of employees signed a petition to hold a vote on whether to leave the union.

On Wednesday, the employees voted 99-74 to leave, and one union supporter told the East Bay Express that he's "afraid of a bloodbath" -- with management retaliating against pro-union employees once the contract expires and management is once again allowed to fire employees at will.

The current contract established that workers could only be fired for cause; that members receive health benefits and paid leave; included significant raises for many workers and mandated that a certain number of employees must be full-time and therefore eligible for benefits under the contract and state law.

Like many grocery stores, including Whole Foods and Wal-Mart, management prefers to keep workers part-time and at-will to avoid paying for benefits and to make it easier and less expensive to fire workers on a whim.

Whether allegations by union supporters of everything from workers being held captive to anti-union messages from management, surveillance, and one-on-one discussions between management and labor meant to divide and concur prove true, it's not a good sign for the UFCW's efforts to also unionize the West Berkeley shop.

Photo by Rosemarie McKeon.

Jackson West figures this won't actually stop any Berkeley "liberals" from shopping at non-union groceries.

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