The City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday urging residents to boycott Berkeley Honda, which they accused of union busting.
“I have a ‘94 Honda Accord and I’m not going back there again until they treat their people honorably,” said Councilmember Linda Maio.
Machinists and mechanics have been picketing the dealership at 2600 Shattuck Ave. for the past month after the new ownership refused to rehire about half of the unionized autoshop staff and honor the union contract that expired at the end of June.
The new owners took over the shop that was previously Jim Doten Honda on June 1. They let 15 union workers go and retained 13, said Machinist union representative Donald Crosatto. The average seniority at Jim Doten Honda was 15 years, according to the council report.
In a letter to the council, Berkeley Honda General Manager Steve Haworth wrote that the dealership was “willing to negotiate with the union” and that its stance was “motivated purely by its desire to operate a successful business in Berkeley.”
At the suggestion of Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, Mayor Tom Bates offered to mediate the dispute if both sides were open to his participation.
Crosatto accepted the mayor’s offer, but contended that the dealership wasn’t interested in keeping the union.
At the first bargaining session held Monday, the dealership offered a one-year deal that would give the union workers their jobs back, but at less pay and with poorer benefits.
Top level mechanics would go from making $28.59 an hour to $25 an hour. A senior parts technician would go from making $24.09 an hour to $15. The offer also reduced recognized holidays from 10 to 6, required employees to pay more for their family’s medical benefits, and would allow non-union employees to work in the auto shop.
“Any shop in the area, union or not, offers a better deal than that,” Crosatto said. The union mechanics rehired in June were offered $31 an hour as part of a deal that would have replaced their employer pension contributions with a 401K retirement fund.
The union proposed allowing the rehired workers to return to work under the dealership’s original offer along with a pledge to continue negotiating with the union for the next year.
Berkeley Honda has retained the law firm Littler Mendelson, which UC’s Coalition of university employees called in 2002, “The most infamous union-busters in the land.”
Noting that the dealership is one of the city’s top sales tax generators Councilmember Wozniak recommended that the council resolution should not bash the dealership and drive it out of town.
“I’d like to see this be a little more than just posturing,” he said.
“No one is trying to run them out of town,” replied Councilmember Darryl Moore. “Some money is good money, but to turn a profit on the backs of the people there, I don’t think it’s right.”
The new ownership group, led by Danville businessman Stephen Beinke, was under no obligation to rehire the workers. However, since the auto shop at this point is still comprised of a majority of union workers, management is required to deal with the union for a certain period. But if more non-union workers are brought in and make up a majority of the auto shop employees, the workers can call to decertify the union.
The union workers fear that they have been retained to train the new non-union employees, and that eventually the owners will replace them with non-union staff and get a decertification petition passed.