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Shattuck Slasher Strikes Union’s Rat, By: Richard Brenneman

Friday January 06, 2006

A surreptitious stalker slashed the robust rodent outside Berkeley Honda at high noon Thursday, briefly deflating the colorful symbol of striking union members. 

The incident followed by one day the presentation by dealership management of what they dubbed their “last and best offer” to solve the long running labor dispute. 

Union officials scoffed at the offer. 

Members of East Bay Automotive Machinists Lodge Local 1546 have been picketing the dealership since new owners purchased the dealership on June 1 and voided the existing contract signed when the dealership was owned by Jim Doten. 

Teamster Jim O’Hara, who has been walking the picket line, said he had momentarily left the rat moments after noon Thursday to talk to colleague Dave Allen, who was picketing near the dealerships shop entrance. 

The two soon observed with alarm that the $3,000 rat had started to keel over. 

“At first, we thought maybe the generator had died,” O’Hara said. 

But the generator—which is made by Honda—was still quietly chugging away. 

On lifting up the sadly supine rodent, they discovered three long knife slashes in the critter’s belly, and O’Hara grabbed his camera to document the incident as his colleague called police. 

Mike Cook came out from union headquarters with a repair kit, and in less than three hours the rodent was inflated anew and presiding once again over the southwest corner of the intersection of Shattuck Avenue and Parker Street. 

“People have developed a lot of affection for the rat,” Parker said. “I’ve seen parents bring their children by and lift them up so they can shake his hands. There were even carolers singing around him at Christmas.” 

The rodent was still in Christmas garb Thursday, wearing a Santa hat atop his furry little head and had a string of lights around his neck. 

Pickets were out in force by Thursday evening, beseeching would-be buyers and shop customers to hear them out before patronizing the dealership. 

When the new owners, headed by Stephen Beinke, a Danville businessman, took over in June, they made all employees reapply for their jobs. Ten of the union’s repair shop workers were rehired but 12 were dismissed, triggering the walkout. 

The key sticking point is the company’s pension proposal, which rejects the union’s demand that the dealership offer workers the union’s own pension plan.