By Judith Scherr
Daily Planet staff
One hundred twenty or so workers will be jobless in two months if Market Services Group, Inc. Direct moves its telemarketing operations from 1950 Addison St. to southern California.
There will be no move at all, however, if union activists have anything to say about it.
Ari Krantz, attorney for the International Longshore & Warehouse Union, says it looks like the company’s trying to leave town to avoid negotiating a union contract. The union has asked the courts for an injunction to stop the company from moving away. Labor law prohibits companies from moving to avoid unions.
MSGi Direct management did not return numerous calls made to its Berkeley and Venice, Calif. offices. Krantz says the company’s position is that Bay Area rents are too high.
MSGi’s history with its workers has been one of hostility toward unionization, Krantz said. Workers contacted the ILWU early in 1999 and began efforts to unionize the company, which telefundraises for many nonprofits including the Sierra Club and the Berkeley Symphony.
A majority of workers signed cards in March 1999 stating that they wanted the ILWU to act as their bargaining agent, but the company turned down the “card check,” which, with the employer’s OK, would have allowed workers to unionize without a formal vote.
There was an election on June 3, 1999, which the union lost. However the union challenged the failed election, saying that the company had bribed workers with added pay and ergonomic chairs so that they would vote against the union. A judge agreed with the union and issued a “bargaining order,” requiring the company to accept unionization.
The ILWU was then ready to negotiate a contract. But when negotiators went into a May 29 meeting to begin contract talks, “the company came in and announced it was moving its facility to L.A.,” Krantz said.
The ILWU responded by filing an unfair labor practices complaint, alleging that the employer was “retaliating against its employees and seeking to avoid the union,” Krantz said. The union is hoping to get a temporary, then permanent, court order to prevent the company from leaving town.
According to an ILWU statement, workers have no sick days, vacations, health insurance or retirement benefits. Wages begin at $7 an hour.