Election Section

Commentary: New Owners Did Not Fire Doten Workers By CHRIS REGALIA

Tuesday October 04, 2005

I am impressed that Ms. Mickleson (Letters Sept. 16) chose the words “ignorant hedonist” to describe how I painted her, and while I will not quibble with her interpretation, I will advise that she be mindful of her own brush strokes. Having carefully followed this developing story I think Ms. Mickleson would be well served to check her own bucket of paint. 

As a business person in this community, there is one aspect of this issue that continues to bother me. Ms. Mickleson referenced the “fact” that everything would be fine if “Tim Beinke had not fired nearly half the work force.” This is the mantra repeated by the protesters on the street and in these pages. To anyone who has carefully followed this story, or to anyone with an ounce of business knowledge, it is clear that this is not in fact the case. Mr. Beinke fired no one; Jim Doten Honda did. The same Jim Doten Honda who profited from the many years of service from their employees. This is the same Jim Doten Honda who presumably profited from the sale of the franchise rights to Mr. Beinke. If there were any obligation, legal or moral, to ensure that these workers were taken care of, it clearly would have been the obligation of Jim Doten Honda. There are many ways this could have been accomplished, yet no one wants to address that. The fact is that Tim Beinke fired no one. No one was laid off by Tim Beinke. No one was “kicked to the curb” by Tim Beinke. If in fact anyone was kicked, it was with a boot whose sole print clearly was that of Doten. Yet, based on the signs and comments of the protesters, Berkeley Honda should be shut down for trying to hire the best people for the job. Damn the facts, it wouldn’t serve the “cause.” 

The new owners presumably bought the franchise rights to sell Hondas in Berkeley—no more, no less. As such, Jim Doten Honda ceased to exist. They therefore fired, let go, kicked to the curb all of their employees. The new owners have stated that the store was under-performing and falling well short of Honda’s expectations. Given that Honda franchises are rarely available, this would seem to be logical. The new owner’s obligation was to build a team that they knew could ensure the long-term success of their business. In that vain, they interviewed all former Doten employees who wished to work for the new company, and according to the NLRB made their hiring decisions without prejudice or discrimination. Call me silly, but could it be that those who were not offered positions might not have been top performers or as efficient as they would like us all to believe? Again, the facts would not serve the cause. 

I know, you’re going to say that this is just a clever business cover-up, meant to disguise the true nefarious nature of the devious plot hatched by the new owners. But the facts are unavoidable. The new owners had no obligation, legal or moral, to hire any of Doten’s employees. If their true purpose was to “bust the union,” why would they hire a majority of union labor? Again you will say that this was just a clever ruse. If the facts don’t fit, misdirect. 

There is one other issue that disturbs me. You refer to the good corporate citizenship of Doten Honda (although you cited it third-hand) and in the same breath you questioned Beinke’s commitment to the community. You are unwilling however to give Beinke the opportunity to show it. If you do any research on the Beinke’s business dealings, you would find that they are outstanding corporate citizens in every community in which they do business. This is above and beyond the many philanthropic endeavors that they have created and supported. Yet any mention of their commitment to Berkeley will be met with the refrain, “They just want to buy their way into the community!”  

Everyone seems so ready to accept the suppositions that the union has carefully planted about what the intentions of this new ownership group are. “If the union says it, it must be true.” Why else would I keep reading such derisive comments referring to the 401k offered by management? I don’t know about you, but given the opportunity to have money put into a 401k that I have total control over, or the same amount of money put into an under-funded pension plan over which I have no control, the decision is easy. But then again, you probably believe that Social Security is in fine shape. “Damn the facts. Shut them down!” 

What amazes me is how much energy and vitriol is being aimed at this situation, especially in light of so many more important issues faced by this community. It would seem to better serve the community to allow the new owners the opportunity to make the business decisions that are their right to make and judge them on what they do, not what we think they are going to do. Maybe they are ruthless business people presumably willing to invest millions of dollars so they could hire unskilled labor to work on sophisticated cars, hoping that an unsophisticated public would continue to bring their cars to be poorly serviced for exorbitant rates. Or maybe they are smart business people, willing to invest millions of dollars in an under performing business, with the goal of improving the operation so it can grow, employing many more people than ever before and becoming not only one of the top revenue generators for the City of Berkeley but also a leading corporate citizen. You are free to choose which you believe. The union and its supporters would have you believe the former. Common sense, logic and oh yes, the facts would suggest the latter. 


Chris Regalia is a Berkeley resident.