Union rally at Berkeley Bowl in June 2010. Photo: Bob Patterson.

Workers at the Berkeley Bowl on Oregon Street are going to have another chance to decide whether they want a union.

The National Labor Relations Board in late December nullified the election Berkeley Bowl held in June 2010 that decertified the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5. The NLRB has ordered the store management to hold another election in March, according to a letter sent to the company in late December.

The NLRB ordered the new election because of “alleged objectionable conduct of the employer that interfered with exercise of a free and reasonable choice,” according to the letter.

The reason Berkeley Bowl was ordered to redo the vote was because it so clearly violated federal law during the June elections, according to Mike Henneberry, communications director for United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5. “The company was just so blatant about punishing people in favor of the union,” said Henneberry. “They were isolating people, giving tougher jobs to people who supporting the union. They were spying on people.”

Glenn Yasuda, the owner of Berkeley Bowl, could not be reached for comment. In agreeing to hold another union election, Yasuda did not admit to any wrongdoing, according to NLRB documents.

The NLRB also issued a series of guidelines for the election and ordered Berkeley Bowl management to post signs throughout the store telling employees of their rights. The letter states:

  • We will not assign you to more onerous work, or isolate you from your co-workers because of your support for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5.
  • We will not create the impression we are spying on you by monitoring your union activity during non-working times, in non-working areas like the Café/Deli break area.
  • We will not tell you that you cannot distribute union flyers inside the store.
  • We will not tell you that you cannot speak to union representatives inside the store.

Berkeley Bowl has had a contentious relationship with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5. In 2003, workers at the Oregon Street store voted not to unionize, but the vote was overturned when the NLRB found that the store’s unfair labor practices were so “pervasive and serious” that a fair election was impossible. In 2004, workers voted to have UFCW represent them and the ensuing contract ushered in new benefits.

When the contract expired in 2010, instead of engaging in collective bargaining, Berkeley Bowl management supported efforts to decertify the union, said Hennenberry.

Workers at the store voted on June 23, 210 to decertify the union by a 99 to 74 margin. Shortly after the election, the UFCW filed more than 40 grievances with the NLRB. The late December letter deals with four of those complaints; the others are pending.

The workers at Berkeley Bowl West, which opened in the summer of 2009, are not unionized. Although the UFCW has a organizing unit in the store, it has not called for a union vote yet since it does not think it will be successful, said Henneberry.

Henneberry said he was not sure why Yasuda is so opposed to unions.

“This guy has a philosophical problem with unions,” said Henneberry.  “For a guy with two stores in the most liberal area in the country, it baffles me.”

The union election is tentatively set for March 23.

UPDATE 12:20 pm Dan Kataoaka, part of the management team of Berkeley Bowl, sent an email this morning concerning the upcoming union election. Here it is:

“One important thing your readers should know is that the petition to decertify the union was initiated, signed and filed with the NLRB by employees of the store – not Berkeley Bowl “officials” or anyone in management.  This fact has not been disputed by the union or the NLRB.  This petition tells us the employees are not happy with their representation from the UFCW and don’t see the value in having the union represent them.  Although we agreed to settle the union’s objections to the election with a rerun election, the decertification petition is still intact because it is a valid petition from the employees of the store.

The NLRB did not order us to have a rerun election – that was our decision.  We had the option of going through a trial and having a judge decide the merits of the union’s objections.  A major reason for deciding on a rerun election was because it did not appear to be in the best interest of the employees to continue litigating for months and years to come.

If you recall, in the initial decertification election, a majority of our employees voted against union representation.  Regardless of what the union and certain members of the community claim, we believe the results of that election reflect the true sentiments of the majority of our employees on the union issue.  It has always been our position to support the will of the majority of our employees, and we will continue to do so.”

Interested in issues surrounding running a business in Berkeley? Be sure to attend Berkeleyside’s first Local Business Forum on Monday January 24, 7-9pm at the Freight & Salvage. Doors open at 6.30 and it’s free.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...