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Peace at the Berkeley Bowl: Workers Agree To Two-Year Labor Contract By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday August 12, 2005

The Berkeley Bowl signed a two-year contract with its workers Sunday, ending a divisive labor standoff at the popular supermarket. 

Employees voted 107-13 to approve the contract that will lower wages for newly hired cashiers, but give raises for most other positions in the store. 

The contract will not apply to a second Berkeley Bowl planned to open in West Berkeley. 

“It’s awesome to see the contract finally done,” said Daniel Hague, a cashier, who had been active in the effort to unionize the store. “Now we have the groundwork to fight for our interests.” 

Berkeley Bowl General Manager Dan Kataoka declined to comment on the contract. Neither the Bowl nor the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Butcher’s Union Local 120 would release the contract. 

Hague said that cashiers hired after the contract signing would have their pay capped at $13 an hour. Current cashiers, many of who top out at around $20 an hour, won’t face a pay cut. 

Berkeley Bowl cashiers received big raises two years ago, Hague said, both to bring the store in line with salaries offered by other local supermarkets and to persuade cashiers to oppose the store’s union drive. 

But since Berkeley Bowl cashiers received salary hikes, the supermarket industry has seen new labor contracts that have reduced cashier salaries. 

“This puts us more in line with the industry standard,” Hague said. 

Besides salary, the contract lays out procedures for employee promotions, raises, and discipline proceedings, Hague said. Workers had charged that the family-run store had no structure for dealing with personnel issues and often arbitrarily rewarded and punished employees. 

“My issue was favoritism,” said Culyon Garrison, a security guard at the store. “Those they liked got promotions and those they didn’t like got treated like crap.” 

“Now we can review our boss and transfer departments a lot more easily,” Hague said. 

The contract signing ends a two-year union drive that divided the store. In 2003, Bowl employees voted 119 to 70 to reject the union.  

The National Labor Relations Board then issued a complaint against the store for illegally pressuring workers to vote against the union effort. Rather than contesting the ruling, Berkeley Bowl agreed to recognize the union without a formal employee vote. 

The bowl was also compelled to reach cash settlements with two employees fired during the union drive, Arturo Perez and Chuck McNally. 

Hague said that despite overwhelming support for the contract, the union fight had divided workers. He said he didn’t know if given a second vote on forming the union, if the employees would back it. 

“It’s been pretty weird around here,” he said. “Now I think people can come together again.” 

City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that labor law prevented the union from demanding that its contract transfer to a new Berkeley Bowl. Bowl management could have chosen to transfer the contract to the new store if it is built, but opted not to do so, Worthington said. 

This is actually the second time Berkeley Bowl workers have signed a union contract. Bowl employees were represented by the Retail Clerks Union from the store’s founding in 1977 until workers rejected the union in 1986.