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Busting Unions at the Depot?

Guest Editorial - Berkeley Daily Planet, August 29, 2003.

The East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, the long recognized community resource founded over 28 years ago by Oakland school teachers is engaged in union busting, disrespect of workers, ignoring its own mission statement and has lost its way.

For over one year employees have tried many ways to improve conditions at the Depot including many informal and formal attempts to utilize professional mediation to settle problems between workers and management. Issues with management include: Refusal by management to discuss personnel problems, lack of the existence of a grievance procedure, surprising disregard for issues of recycling, and lack of recycling in the store. Other problems include the lack of discussion of environmental issues including safety problems such as toxics materials handling.

Another major concern is the sudden change from a teamwork way of working to a top down "if you don't like it there's the door" approach. Employees were ignored numerous times. EBD Board of Directors have gone along with management, ignore workers. concerns and have as far as we know, not set in place a structure for conflict resolution. As of June, the vital and successful educational programs, Project Create and Art in the Heart no longer exist. Why? This is a great loss to our community and its thousands of school children who benefited from these programs for many years. In the last year, more than 25 program and store workers including educational program managers have lost their jobs. The stressful conditions persist

The employees at the Depot eventually turned to the Industrial Workers of the World in an effort to organize a union [with the IWW]. An election took place in April 2003 and employees voted unanimously (13-0) for the union. Of those 13 only 3 remain as management continues to fire, layoff, and force workers through harassment to quit in disgust and frustration.

Now, another new batch of workers have been hired to replace the workers who organized a union. We don't blame them for accepting jobs during a union organizing drive. We hope the workers now employed at the Depot will take the time to inform themselves concerning the union drive and also look into the concerns listed above as well as their own.

The stated mission of the Depot "...is to divert waste materials from landfills and reduce primary source production by collecting and distributing discarded material as low cost supplies and furnishings for the arts, education and households, recreation and social services. Our educational mission is to increase the awareness of school students and the general public concerning satisfaction and environmental benefits gained from creatively reusing industrial, commercial and residential materials. The Depot is a California nonprofit benefit corporation."

Perhaps the Board of Directors of the Depot should modify their mission statement to something more in line with their actual practices. The abandonment of their stated mission and their withdrawal of support to the educational programs is appalling.

We think it is imperative that the board of directors be more open and representative of the community that it serves. It must become a more inclusive and involving organization that can respond to the needs of teachers, artists and the community of the East Bay. Board meetings are closed to the public. This has to change. The East Bay Depot board of directors is mishandling their stewardship of this vital community resource and must be held accountable.

Respectfully Submitted by Arlene Magarian, Chela Fielding, Daniella Wooton, Emma Spertus, Micah Messenheimer and Thurston Graham on behalf of 33 ex-Depot workers.

Another Worker Weighs In

Editor:

As someone who worked with the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in various capacities for 7 or 8 years I want to express my support for the statement published here regarding the "Depot" (Aug.29-Sept.1). This store was started with good intentions, and for some time it served a valuable role in the arts, education and environmental communities, but in the last few years it has become a corrupt, repressive and reactionary institution.

Its workers found that the only way they could get respect from their bosses was to affiliate with a union. Then, even before a contract could be finalized, the Depot fired or laid off almost all its union workers. The union members who were not fired were intimidated and harassed into leaving the union. The scabs who were hired to replace the union workers are understandably afraid to get involved with the union because they know they would lose their jobs as a consequence. Yet the Depot continues to masquerade as a progressive, community based organization. This must change.

Although, as an artist, I used to do a lot of shopping at this store, I have vowed to not spend another dime there until there is a change in management, and real reform in labor practices at the Depot's store and and in its other programs . I urge all supporters of workers rights to do the same.

In solidarity, Doug Cover, Berkeley, CA