7 Days 

When criminals are morons; Black Rep foibles, Act 17; and hey, don't most workers fight to bring in the union?

Annals of bumbling criminals: A man who allegedly helped steal a car in Hayward last week tried to turn himself in to the Fremont authorities. Trouble is, the person he surrendered to was only an authority when it came to delivering packages. What the accused crook mistook for a SWAT van was actually a Fremont UPS truck. Now how's that for paranoia?

According to Fremont police, Gabriel Hughes, 27, and two accomplices stole a red Nissan pickup in Hayward one morning last week and then drove to Fremont. But the three ran into trouble when the truck got stuck in the mud off Ardenwood Boulevard near Union City. Before long, officers arrested two of the three -- both kids, ages fourteen and seventeen. The third suspect was AWOL.

A couple of hours later, a UPS driver delivering packages in residential Fremont was stunned when a man approached with his arms up in the air trying to surrender, according to Fremont Detective Bill Veteran. Hughes, a transient, apparently thought the man inside the famous brown truck in the cute little brown outfit was a police SWAT team member.

The driver, Veteran says, told the suspect he couldn't help him. Apparently relieved, Hughes then offered $10 for a ride out of the area. The driver declined, and took off; and Hughes was promptly arrested for felony auto theft, possession of burglary tools, resisting police, and contributing to the delinquency of minors. "Our SWAT vehicles look nothing like a UPS van," Veteran says. "It's an old military peacekeeper and it's black and white and says, 'Police' all over it. There's no mistaking it."

Actually, there is mistaking it. Gabriel Hughes, apparently, doesn't watch enough television.

Back at the national office in Atlanta, United Parcel Service officials were amused by the incident. "To the best of my knowledge, that's a new one," says press deputy Bob Godlewski. "It's hard to imagine anyone thinking that brown truck was a SWAT vehicle. The only thing that thing is good for is picking up and delivering packages." -- Susan Goldsmith

Black Rep's class act: It's hard to know how to feel about South Berkeley's Black Repertory Group. On the one hand, the public would have a right to be angry with Mona Scott and her family for ruining what could be a magnificent establishment. Black artists are desperate for good performance venues, and the Adeline commercial corridor desperately needs a high-profile arts anchor. But the Vaughn/Scott family, which runs the theater, has allowed it to decay into an embarrassing blight, and black theater professionals who try to work with the family almost invariably walk away, disgusted by Scott's refusal to improve the performance quality or cooperate with people who know what they're doing. On the other hand, it's always entertaining to hear another anecdote about the depths of ineptitude at the Black Rep.

Consider, for instance, the theater's March performance of Jazzy Josie B., a musical tribute to Josephine Baker.

Herb Geller is a longtime jazz great who has played with Benny Goodman, Chet Baker, and Ella Fitzgerald. Earlier this spring, while touring the West Coast, he decided to stage a performance of Jazzy Josie B., for which he wrote the score, at the Rep. Local musicians David Udolf and Otto Huber jumped at the chance to play with Geller, but soon found that the theater's performance standards weren't quite what they were used to. "It was pretty bad," Huber says. "The actors were horrible. One of the actors was reading from the script during the show. The costume changes between scenes took way too long, and the audience was sitting there, waiting for the characters to change, for three or four minutes before the next scene. Sometimes they'd forget their lines, and Herb, who was playing the sax as well as conducting us, had to whisper prompts to the actors."

The turnout was typical of what the Black Rep's managers have been able to muster over the years: According to Huber, perhaps 45 people showed up at their biggest show, at a theater that seats 250. One night, he says, just fifteen people showed up.

The biggest surprise, though, came after the run was over. According to Udolf, the Black Rep refused to pay any of the musicians. Huber claims that when he dropped by to demand his check, an employee told him to call Mona Scott, who promptly declared that since he didn't have a contract, she was under no legal obligation to pay him. As far as Huber could figure out, Scott was offended that Geller had edited the script, written by an African American, to rid it of some problems. "The reason they didn't pay us or Herb was because Mona didn't think the play was legitimate, because Herb made changes," he says. "Herb had to change some things in order for the script to make sense. ... in the original draft, a character who was killed in the first act showed up in the third act -- and not as a ghost."

When 7 Days called the Black Rep, the woman who answered the phone denied the allegations. "Of course it's not true," she said. "A person named Herb Geller stiffed them, and just because it was held at the Black Repertory Group doesn't mean we have to pay."

Asked for details, she said she'd forward our request to someone in charge, but refused to say who that might be. She then offered her opinion of this newspaper and hung up. "I'm gonna chalk it up as a life lesson," Huber says. "Next time get a contract, and stay away from community theater."

This is the soft of professionalism the Vaughn/Scott family has displayed over the years. Whenever critics point out that the city built and still owns the theater, and that the public has a right to expect better from this community asset, the theater's operators could always count on influential author Ishmael Reed, ex-Mayor Shirley Dean, and a hefty amount of race-baiting to bail them out.

But there's a new sheriff in town, one who has plenty of black support and doesn't need the Vaughn/Scott family. An aide to Mayor Tom Bates said the mayor hasn't been in office long enough to get around to dealing with the Black Rep. But should he ever do so, the family could well be out on their butts. Maybe Reed could put them up in his living room. -- Chris Thompson

Dues, please: Last year, Aikya Param says she discovered a darker meaning to the phrase "labor solidarity." Param has worked as a Kaiser Permanente research assistant for four years; she enjoyed ample benefits and generally thought she had a pretty good deal going. Then last year, research division director Joe Selby sent her and roughly ninety of her colleagues an e-mail informing them that voilá, they were all suddenly members of the Office and Professional Employees International, local 29. Oh, and their pension benefits would be lower than they used to be, their bereavement pay was cut, their seniority was reduced to nothing, etc.

Param found this a bit too much to swallow. "I consider myself a pro-union person," she says. "I have served as a shop steward. Many of my co-workers are also pro-union. But because of the way this happened to us, we didn't at all have the feeling that this union was on our side."

Her colleague Virginia Browning claims almost none of the ninety research assistants considered union membership to be a better deal, and were frankly offended by the way their destinies were suddenly decided for them. Param filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, demanding release from membership. NLRB reps agreed, and the matter is being heard before a judge this week. But don't expect an update anytime soon: Nothing ever happens quickly at the NLRB.

Kaiser spokeswoman Laura Marshall says she can't comment on pending legal matters, and officials with Local 29 didn't return our phone call. But Maureen Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Coalition of Kaiser Unions, says the reclassification was part of a routine process between labor and management and that, all things considered, the downside of compulsory union membership is more than balanced by its benefits. "I wish I didn't have to pay my taxes," she says. "I wish I could pick and choose among unpleasant things in life. But with the union, it's like solidarity, you know? We all have to work together." -- Chris Thompson

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