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Appeals court tells business to bargain with its employees

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday February 13, 2001

In a landmark case, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Berkeley telefundraiser Marketing Services Group, Inc. Direct to negotiate a contract with its employees. 

The effort to unionize goes back two years, said telemarketer and artist Chandra Garsson, who has worked for New York-based MSGI and its predecessor for five years. 

Garsson said she feels good about her work, raising money for nonprofits such as Planned Parenthood and the Portland Art Museum.  

But, she says she needs a decent hourly wage, health care, sick days off and a comfortable chair in which to work.  

“It’s very expensive to live in the Bay Area,” she said. 

Two years ago Garsson and some of her co-workers decided they would form a union in order to get what they wanted. So they went to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which agreed to help. The workers attempted to form a union by “card check,” with most the about 70 workers signing authorization cards.  

When a majority of a company’s workers sign authorization cards, a union is formed – as long as the employer agrees. 

But manager Norris Mottley rejected the union, Garsson said. 

Mottley told the Daily Planet he had “no comment” on this story. 

After Mottley turned down the card check, workers then went on to hold a National Labor Relations Board-sanctioned vote in June 1999. They lost the election. Garsson claims the loss was due to flagrant labor law violations on the part of MSGI management. 

She said management held meetings the employees had to attend to address issues related to the union. These kinds of meetings are not permitted under the labor code. 

In particular, Garsson said management threatened to take away the workers’ flexible hours, something Garsson said they cherished. The flexible work hours allow Garsson to practice her art and to earn a living by telefundraising. When she has a grant or has sold a piece of art, she works fewer hours, but other times, she works more. 

She also accused management of “packing the unit,” hiring more workers than were needed to dilute the pool of pro-union workers. 

At the same time, the company tried to buy off the workers. “They gave us all across the board raises and bought new ergonomic chairs,” she said.  

Arthur Krantz of Leonard, Carder, Nathan, Zuckerman, Ross, Chin and Remar agreed that the workers were being treated unfairly and took the case to a National Labor Relations Board hearing, which was held before an administrative law judge. That process began about nine months ago and may drag on for months into the future, he said. 

Hoping that the workers could get relief more quickly, Krantz went to Federal District Court to try to get a judge to force management to the bargaining table. The judge wrote a “cease and desist” order, telling management not to violate labor laws, but did not order the company to accept a negotiated contract, Krantz said. So the attorney took the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and won. 

“The company is obligated to bargain with the union,” Krantz said, noting that it is the first time the Ninth Circuit Court has issued this type of order. “This is truly a landmark ruling.”  

The workers will be forming a bargaining committee in the next few weeks and negotiations on a contract should start soon thereafter. 

“It’s been a very long journey,” Garsson said. “It feels well worth it.”