Berkeley Bowl Employees Vote to Decertify Union

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Starting August 1, Berkeley Bowl management will no longer be legally mandated to negotiate with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 Union as a result of a 99-74 vote by employees to decertify the union Wednesday.

More than 30 percent of the workers at the grocery store - located at 2020 Oregon St. - signed a petition in May that triggered an official election to decide whether to decertify the union.

Four members of the Berkeley City Council introduced a recommendation Tuesday to oppose the decertification of the union, citing concerns that the election would be swayed by employee fears of retaliation by management.

"Berkeley is witnessing classic anti-union tactics by Berkeley Bowl management that mirror the ugly methods employed in the past," the recommendation states. "Firings, threats and coercion are just a few anti-worker tactics ... management is utilizing in order to crush the employees' desire and ability to have a fair voice in their workplace."

Berkeley Bowl management declined to comment on the situation.

Once the current contract between the store and union expires July 31, the store's management will be free to terminate negotiations with the union.

The workers' first attempt to unionize in 2003 ended with the National Labor Relations Board ruling it impossible to conduct a fair election under the store's unfair labor practices. The board then ordered management to negotiate with the union, which resulted in the current contract.

James Grogan, organizer for the union, said the drive to decertify is part of a larger history of anti-union efforts on the part of the store's management.

"It's just a continuation of what's happened since 2003," he said. "They are violating the right of the people to organize."

While Grogan said it was too soon to tell whether management had influenced the outcome of the election, Lajos Balazs, produce clerk and in-house union representative, said management has been "playing games" with employees.

"The managers are surveilling us," Balazs said. "If two employees are talking together, managers will come over and ask what we're talking about."

Store employee Scott Galloway said the pressure from both sides has been "crazy."

"The unions had ... six to eight representatives in the store every day for the last month, and (management) have been pulling people aside one on one," Galloway said.

Benefits the union negotiated for workers include extra holidays, pay raises - in some cases raises of $5 to $6 an hour - and seniority privileges, according to Balazs.

In addition, Balazs said the store primarily hired part-time workers before 2003. Because of union negotiations, management was required to hire a certain number of full-time workers who tended to be eligible for more benefits, including health insurance coverage.

"I'm sure they'll get rid of a lot of ... employees," Balazs said.

Another benefit the union negotiated was the prohibition on at-will employment.

After the contract expires, "we would become at-will employees," Galloway said. "That means they can basically fire you for whatever."

Grogan said though the store will no longer be forced to conduct negotiations with workers, the union will continue monitoring unfair labor practices.

"We'll still be here," he said.


Contact Gianna Albaum at

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