Public Comment

Commentary: Workers Important to Community, By: Garry Horrocks

Friday March 17, 2006

I worked at Jim Doten Honda as a mechanic for 15 years. The average tenure of the mechanics was about 20 years. 

Some of us had been employed by Mr. Doten for over 30 years. Together with the other departments there were about 60 employees in all.  

Over the years we became a family. We watched each other’s children come into the world, and watched each other’s parents leave this world. Through the good times and the bad, we were there for each other. 

Not only did we become a family of coworkers, we also became part of this community. Some of us grew up here, some of us purchased homes here.  

We are raising our families here. We attend school here. We coach your children in youth activities. Our wives and girlfriends also work here, at the optometrist’s office, the university, and the local restaurants. We come here to practice our faith. We serve the needy in our community. We are taxpayers, good citizens and good neighbors. We are the threads in the tapestry of this great community. 

This all changed when Mr. Doten sold the dealership. 

It was around May 15th.The note by the time clock at work read:  

“I have sold the dealership and I am sure you will find the new owners very pleasant to work for. Thanks for the years of service, 

Mr. Doten”  

Good for Mr. Doten, most of us thought, he can finally retire. 

Mr. Doten is getting on in years, we haven’t seen much of him anyway. 

He spends most of his time in Palm Springs, he loves his golf you know. 

Maybe this is why he didn’t do his homework. In his recent commentary to the Daily Planet [January 24 th–26th ] he said he had made a slight oversight in not realizing his liability to the underfunding of the Union’s pension.Was Mr. Doten too focused on his game? 

It seems that every other owner or general manager of a union dealership is aware of their obligation to the pension fund including the new owners, they were all notified by the union! 

The new owners realized Mr. Doten did not do his home work, and that he was unaware of his obligation to the pension and did not mention it to him during the sale of the business. In Mr. Doten’s recent commentary he assures us that the new owners will be “good corporate neighbors”  

Mr. Doten, how do you feel about your corporate neighbor now ? 

Mr. Doten goes on to tell us of how much he is suffering from having to pay this money, even after his handsome contributions to our pension 

Would I be rude to remind Mr. Doten that half of these contributions were our raises that we voted to direct to our pension? 

Mr. Doten we empathize with your suffering. For the workers have come to know suffering as well. Out of the 60 members of the Jim Doten Honda family there are only four still working there. The lives of 56 families were turned upside down! Some of us on the strike line have suffered significant financial loss also. Some of us have not received a real pay check in eight months. Some of us have wiped out our savings. Some of us now have to pay an obscene amount of money for our families’ health care. All of us have lost our accrued vacation time and seniority. 

Some of us [ the younger workers ] suffer the loss of all of their retirement contributions for they were not fully vested yet. Some of us will not receive any more contribution to this retirement fund and therefore it cannot mature properly. Some of us are too close to retiring to bring another nest egg to maturity, it takes 20 years to realize a significant return in a 401k or defined benefit plan. Some of us will suffer for the rest of our lives due to the loss of our pension. Some of us will not be able to retire! Some of us on the line have been cussed at, had dead birds thrown at us, threatened, verbally and physically, almost run, over flipped off, spit at, have had our legs intentionally pinned between cars, told to get a job, and generally harassed on a daily basis. 

Mr. Doten said in his commentary, “this strike is not about people, it’s about the money grab by the union.” To Mr. Doten I say tell that to the 56 families that have been displaced and the greater community, people are exactly what this strike is about . We also suffer loss but not only loss of money, but loss of self, our dignity, our jobs, our work family, and our community. 

The fabric of this community is being ripped apart. Mr. Doten we all know who is the source of all this suffering. It’s the new guys in town with the Wal-mart-type business plan. They are the ones who will make a profit on all of our suffering. Mr. Doten, the suffering won’t stop with us. The new owners are drastically cutting their employees benefit plan. The new employees are starting to feel the pain of paying for their families health care. And as for their retirement soon they will come to realize that to few are receiving too little too late, and they will not be able to retire. And who is profiting on their suffering? 

Mr. Doten, the suffering won’t stop with them, because in order to remain competitive the other shops in town will have to cut their employees benefits, and who is causing their suffering? Mr. Doten the suffering wont stop with them either. Because any of these people who can’t afford health care or can’t afford to save for their retirement will end up falling back on the state for assistance, and all of us will suffer from higher taxes. Once again who will be profiting on all of our suffering? Mr. Doten, the ripple effect of suffering passing through our community is caused by a few very very rich men, Blackhawk developers who have said, “this operation is so small it is not even a blip on our financial radar screen.” 

It is said that true evil is the total lack of empathy. Now I ask you if these rich men have so much money, that the profit they are making on our suffering is so insignificant to them. 

Is this not approaching that definition? Mr. Doten, I pick up a sign and protest in front of Berkeley Honda every day, because I view our family, friends, coworkers and community to valuable to allow this quality of thread to be used in the tapestry of our community. 

Just a striking worker’s perspective. 


Garry Horrocks is a Berkeley resident.