Employees of Berkeley Bowl—still without a union contract to celebrate this Labor Day—rallied in front of the store Sunday as part of their four-month-long organizing drive.
More than 150 people came out to support the workers during the rally which was held in honor of the holiday and to give greater public exposure to the drive, increasing community involvement and sending a message to management that the employees are ready to unionize.
“The time to begin negotiating is now,” said Kevin Meyer, one of the workers who spoke at the rally.
Meyer said that even though Berkeley Bowl has agreed to legally recognize an election through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), workers want the company to recognize the union right away through a card check agreement.
A card check agreement would officially validate the union after a neutral third party was brought in to verify that a majority of the workers had signed union authorization cards—which the union says an overwhelming majority has already done.
Store management contends that an election is more democratic and more accurately reflects the interests of workers. Organizers and workers disagree, declaring that there are a number of ways that an election can be delayed in ways that favor the company.
The rally drew strong community support, including speeches by Berkeley City Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Donna Spring, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, former 14th District Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, and Rebecca Kaplan, a member of the AC Transit Board of Directors.
“As a community institution we are asking you to share your wealth. It’s not just the workers but the community who wants fairness,” said Supervisor Carson.
Several of the other elected officials said that while they regularly shop at Berkeley Bowl, they have been discouraged by the company’s unwillingness to negotiate.
“I love the food but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth knowing that they don’t have a union,” said Worthington from the City Council.
During the rally, a delegation of workers and a union representative approached the Berkeley Bowl management to deliver a statement proposing terms for how to move toward officially recognizing a card check agreement. Store Manager Larry Evans received the delegation but refused to touch the statement, citing legal reasons. He declined to comment about the statement or the rally.
“I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t accept it,” said Lilian Flores, one of the main organizers with the Oakland-based United Food and Commerical Workers Butchers’ Union Local 120.
Flores and David Rosenfeld, UFCW Local 120’s lawyer, both explained that the management was avoiding the statement as a way to avoid negotiations.
Several shoppers sported pro-union buttons and balloons as they shopped and many of the community supporters who showed up were long-time shoppers at the Bowl. One of the supporters, Leonore Veltfort, 84, has shopped at the store for years because it’s the only place she can walk to.
“I always shop there, but I feel guilty shopping at a non-union shop,” said Veltfort. “It’s ridiculous to not let them have a union.”
Also coming out in support of the Berkeley Bowl workers were members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 2850. Judy Goff, the Executive Secretary Treasurer for Central Labor Council in Alameda County attended, expressing her and the council’s support for the union drive.
“I represent 135 unions and 125,600 working families in Alameda County and we stand with you. We will not rest until you get a contract that gives you the respect and dignity you deserve,” said Goff.
Workers involved in the campaign were encouraged by the support and say that they will pursue the drive until they receive a contract.
“It helps keep us going when you see people come out and support you, it gives us a boost,” said Matthew Beavers, one of the workers participating in the drive.
Flores was also encouraged especially by the community support. “It was great. What better place to organize than Berkeley?”