City's Boycott of Local Restaurant Continues





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A change in location of tomorrow's League of California Cities meeting illuminated a boycott of Spenger's Fish Grotto by the city of Berkeley.

The city and the Central Labor Council of Alameda County have endorsed a boycott of the restaurant since December because it is no longer a union establishment.

Though Spenger's management said it is unaware of the continuing boycott, the restaurant took a hit when the East Bay division of the League of California Cities, an education and advocacy group, changed their meeting location from Spenger's after a City Council member informed them of the boycott.

"I asked them to relocate to respect union rights," Kriss Worthington said. "The representative was very cooperative and wasn't aware that there was a boycott. He had to send out notices of the change, which might have been costly, but he was really polite."

The meeting, a gathering of regional city government officials, is now scheduled to meet at Le Bateau Ivre at 6:30 p.m.

"The city of Berkeley is respecting the boycott, and so we're respecting them," said Jennifer Lloyd, a league policy analyst.

According to Worthington, over 150 workers, many of whom had been employed by Spenger's for up to 30 years, lost their jobs when the restaurant closed down last year. After new management spent close to $5 million in remodeling the restaurant, Spenger's re-opened in December but refused to rehire their old employees.

"We're not boycotting simply because of the refusal to hire back workers," Worthington said. "It is more about the nature of the way they closed and reopened."

He said the restaurant stayed closed just long enough so that they would not be obligated to maintain union contracts.

"The length of time that they left it empty was a way kill the union," he said. "It's tragic to take away their benefits. Although they rehired 39 people, even the ones hired don't have the same union contracts they had before."

Both the receptionist and general manager of Spenger's said they were not aware of the change in location of the meeting, or that the boycott is still in place.

"As far as we know, the boycott problem is over," said Scott Smith, Spenger's general manager. "Everything said about us not wanting to hire old employees was strictly rumor. We did hire and still have old workers."

But the boycott continues because there is still no union.

"The issue for the city was that Spenger's used to be a union business," said Councilmember Dona Spring. "Union negotiations fell apart, and so the restaurant closed and sold to a non-union member. For the workers this is bad because when you don't have a union to represent you, you're at the mercy of the corporation. We're urging the new management to go union so that people can get living wages and medical benefits. It's like slave labor without them."

Only one council member voted against the boycott.

"I did not support it because the council wanted Spenger's to rehire every single old employee," said Polly Armstrong. "I don't think that made any sense because it is a new restaurant under new ownership."

The restaurant, a more than 100-year-old Fourth Street establishment, had been a "long-standing union restaurant," said Stephanie Ruby, a union organizer.

"We think management needs to be fair to the people that used to work there," she said. "As of now it doesn't deserve the public's trust or money because they have no regard whatsoever for their employees."

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