Alibi V.13 No.6 • Feb 5-11, 2004 

Newscity

~ Local ~

Union? No. The fight for a union at La Montañita Food Co-op is over and workers have lost. Pro-union workers, sounding sad and defeated, have reported that the union representing them has stopped unionization efforts before it came to an employee vote because of lack of support.

The International Aerospace and Machinists' Union (IAM), which is representing the workers, requires a pre-vote poll to see if the majority of workers support a union. If enough workers had signed their names, pledging that they would vote for a union in the upcoming election, the process would have continued as planned and the election, scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 4, would have occured.

But IAM bylaws dictate that if enough signatures are not collected—in this case, only 40 instead of the 50 needed—the process must stop and the election not happen. That way, employees can try again in six months to form a union. But if the election occurs and employees vote to not have a union, workers must wait a full year before organization efforts can begin again. This is after the two-thirds employee vote required by the National Labor Board to file for a union in the first place.

Pro-union employees, with the help of IAM members, had spent this past weekend drumming up support for the union. They spent Thursday, Jan. 29 through Saturday, Jan. 31 visiting some employees at their homes and calling others with the hopes of getting the 50 signatures required by the IAM to continue to an election.

And on Friday, Jan. 30, they held a teach-in at the Co-op's Nob Hill annex, a last-ditch effort in the long battle between some Co-op employees and the company's management.

Pro-union employees have been angry over management's tactics to dissuade employees from voting for the union, including offering discussion meetings for which employees are paid and where management explains why they feel a union isn't right for the grocery stores. Anti-union literature has been given out with paychecks as well.

In response, for several weeks these employees, including Shoshana Handel, one of the organizers of the employee movement, had been asking store management to allow John Lamar, an IAM representative to speak to employees. The reason, Handel said, is because she wants fellow employees to be able to hear a pro-union side of things at their place of employment, since they were already hearing the anti-union side.

She also said there were many misconceptions among employees about the union, such as that benefits, especially for part-time employees, would be lost if a union formed because all benefits would have to be negotiated from scratch. Instead, employees would have complete control over what happened with benefits, because they would vote on things like benefits every step of the way, Lamar said.

Management had previously refused to allow a union representative to speak at the store. But last week, the Co-op's general manager, C.E. Pugh, announced that employees could invite a union representative to the annex for an informational session.

And while the employees this weekend were welcome to hear what Lamar had to say, the public and Co-op members were not. Two employees stood sentinel at either side of the entrance's big doors, having been given strict instructions to unlock the doors by punching in the pass code for Co-op employees only.

Last week, pro-union employees held a question and answer session at the IAM union lodge on Pine Street, but only about 15 workers showed up. Holding a meeting at the Co-op's annex, a kind of conference room at the back of the store, had a greater turnout because it's an easy meeting place for employees, Handel said. It also sent the message that learning more about the unionization issue isn't a crime, and that's important for some employees who say the store's climate of hostility and tension makes being pro-union uncomfortable.

But despite their best efforts, the pro-union workers were 10 signatures short of their requirement, with only 40 employees pledging to vote for the union. Handel says she can count where those votes were lost: five people who signed the original petition to unionize were excluded because they were considered middle management by the company or were clerical workers and could not join the union. Another five quit since they signed the original petition.

She said she was disappointed in her fellow employees who chose not to vote for the union, but added that management was so heavy handed with anti-union propaganda that she could see how many of the Co-op's 108 employees could be dissuaded.

Handel said she was tired after fighting hard to convince her fellow workers and probably won't stay with the company long enough to try again in six months. She gave up all of her free time to concentrate on the union, she said, and didn't have time to even clean her house.

But, she added, all it takes for a union to happen is for other workers to band together.

“There needs to be 10 people who aren't afraid,” she said. “Then I could see it happening.”

Who knows what's best for you? CBS, apparently. Superbowl Sunday isn't all chilli and beer and thick men chasing a funny-shaped ball. It's also about new advertisements—probably the only time of the year when commericials are welcomed and eagerly anticipated. But among the ads for beer and cool ranch chips was one ad you didn't see: one sponsored by the liberal online organization MoveOn.org denouncing the Bush administration's tax debt.

The ad was the winner of a contest sponsored by MoveOn, where anyone could submit a 30-second commercial depicting why Americans should not re-elect Bush. Judging the contest were musician Moby, comedienne Margaret Cho and director Gus VanSant (Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho). Thousands of submissions were entered and registered voters could begin voting for their favorite on Jan. 8.

The winning commercial, called “Child's Pay,” was created by Charlie Fisher of Denver. As an acoustic guitar plays in the background, kids are shown vacuuming a hotel, working an assembly line and slinging trash bags into the back of a garbage truck. Then, a question pops up on screen: “Who's going to pay off Bush's $1 trillion tax debt?”

CBS declined the ad—and the $1.6 million MoveOn was going to pay for the airtime—because executives did not allow “deep pockets to control one side of a public policy debate, be it conservative or liberal,” the station said in a statement.

This only applies to certain pockets, however, because ads for big businesses (that also contribute to political campaigns) such as alcohol companies, Frito Lay and Fed Ex were shown.

And while the political ad was too controversial for our eyes, the halftime show, in which singer Janet Jackson bared her breast, happened without a hitch. CBS denies any previous knowledge of this part of Jackson's act, but they did hire MTV to coordinate the half-time show. MTV is owned by Viacom, which also owns CBS.

According to MoveOn, 340,000 people have filed complaints with CBS over the censored ad.

CBS also rejected an ad from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which charged that eating meat caused impotence.

Compiled by Sara Hiatt.