Letters for the week of June 27-July 3, 2007 

Readers laud our food writing and poke at our coverage of Ron Dellums and Farmer Joe's labor dispute.

"Viva Salvador," On Food, 6/13

A strong opening
That opening paragraph this week, for example, melding hair pomade with pastelitos ... awesome! While the review this week was a tour de force, I read it just for your lush use of metaphor and description, not because I have any pull whatsoever to the food (I'm even allergic to corn!) ... so thank you, thank you, for the writing inspiration and heat you create each week in the Express. While I'm sure you generate business for the restaurants, there's probably a bunch of writers like me who just use your stuff as a good jumpstart when we get too stuck or formulaic.
Tosha Silver, Alameda

"Anybody Seen Hizzoner?" City of Warts, 6/6

Out of context
So much for accuracy in reporting. In response to "Anybody Seen the Mayor," Chris Thompson completely took my response to his question out of context. I stated that I had just returned from a two-week absence (i.e., family emergency) and much can and does happen in that timeframe. I told him I wanted an opportunity to check in with the mayor, which had not happened given that I had just returned two days earlier.

As for the rest of the article, Thompson's reporting speaks for itself.
Karen Stevenson, director of communications, Office of the Mayor, Oakland

Dellums' high road
I see lots of negative comment in the Express as to the visibility and viability of Oakland's new mayor, opinions aplenty regarding his effectiveness. Yet there's scant mention of what has to be seen as a stellar achievement: his bringing together of Oakland's more disparate elements, all in happy agreement and resolved to use their best efforts — and assets — to untangle the mess that everyone knows has pinioned progress in our fair city.

The terms of the Oakland Partnership, outlined at the Mayor's Economic Summit in early May, are exciting to me and virtually everyone I know — if they've taken the time to scan the documents circulated at the event itself and currently abundant on the shelves of Oakland's libraries. When you've finally had a chance to read through the material yourself, maybe you'll come to the same conclusion, that the dialogue about what we can do to make Oakland a model city will depend on cooperation from as many community groups as it will from industry leaders. A fairly common-sense conclusion perhaps, but one that hadn't been acted upon successfully — until now.

What other city can your reporters find that is actively engaged in such a partnership, one with a shared vision at all levels and ratified by the thousand or so citizens who volunteered to serve the Dellums Task Force process? Most people will agree that Ron's accomplishments are right on the high road, just where he said they'd be when he first agreed to help Oakland on its difficult journey from being the Bay Area's stepsister city to Northern California's transportation queen.

Rather than yet another Express article on biker fashions and/or crackpot lifestyles, why not present a reasonable analysis of the Oakland partnership proposal and explain to your otherwise-preoccupied readers just why it is that so many of the best brains in the Bay Area have elected to participate in such an affirmative process as reimagining a new city right where it should be: here at the very crossroads of the East Bay.
Steve Lowe, vice president, West Oakland Commerce Association, Oakland

"Farmer Joe's Woes," Water Cooler, 5/9

Numerous inaccuracies
We appreciate your taking the time to speak with us regarding the article about Farmer Joe's and the union activities. We believe it contains numerous inaccuracies, misquotes, and other factual errors that we would like to clarify for the record.

Contrary to Ms. Pollin's assurances that the article would be brief, the article turned out to be quite lengthy and prominent. Under those circumstances, Ms. Pollin should have provided me with an opportunity to respond to these allegations. Of course, she did not afford me this opportunity. In addition, we believe Ms. Pollin would benefit from talking directly with our current employees to get an alternative, credible perspective on the situation. We have on numerous occasions provided her the opportunity to conduct such research, but she has promptly declined.

I believe that good journalism should bear truth and fairness for the public regardless of one's personal preferences. East Bay Express is a venerable newspaper with a reputation for good journalism that is trustworthy and fair. Therefore, in a case like this where the article contains numerous factual inaccuracies, third parties like the union have used this in their marketing materials to unfairly vilify us.

We have enclosed a copy of the union leaflets being circulated in front of our store and throughout homes in our neighborhood. More importantly, we have documented the factual inaccuracies of the article in a separate attachment for your review. We have taken great care to ensure that whatever statements that we make are supported by evidence. We request an immediate correction to subject article be made and that the misinformation be halted.

In addition, we would welcome you into our store at any time to conduct interviews and do any necessary research into the matter. Of course, we would not be present at the store during this time so that you may have an unfiltered, honest assessment of the employee sentiments and work conditions.
Diana Tam, Farmer Joe's Marketplace, Oakland

Editor's note
The story missed a late-breaking development, a NLRB ruling against certain unfair labor practice complaints the union had filed. We reported on this development the following week. Pollin, however, disputes Diana Tam's claim that she was not given a chance to respond. Tam's points are addressed individually below.

Inaccuracies and Misinformation in "Farmer Joe's Woes," per Diana Tam
(Editor's responses follow each point in italic type.)

1. Nydia Williams was fired due to serious misconduct, nothing else. In the period leading up to her termination, she was also given many opportunities to correct her misconduct. Her misconducts were witnessed and documented by management as well as third parties such as a customer and security personnel. The writer attributed Williams' claims, and included Diana Tam's assertion that Williams was fired "with cause." — eds.

2. Marcus Smith was not fired at Farmer Joe's. Mr. Smith quit himself. Joe never said, "If you're not loyal, you're a castaway." This is pure fabrication by Mr. Smith. Smith apparently told our writer that he was the first person to be fired due to union activity. At that time, Diana Tam was unwilling to comment on specific terminations, citing privacy issues. As for the second point, the article was quoting Smith, not Joe Tam, saying this. We felt that was clear in the article. — eds.

3. On behalf of Victor Blanco, the union filed an unfair labor practice claim against Farmer Joe's for his termination. The government found the case to have no merit and the union withdrew their claim. Please see the attached NLRB ruling. That's correct. We covered this development in a follow-up storyfollow-up story the very next week. — eds.

4. Ms. Pollin reported, "Victor Blanco says his manager told him explicitly that he was being fired for supporting the union." Is again false. He was fired for a fully documented legitimate reason. If that were true, the union would not have withdrawn this claim. While we reported Blanco's claim, we did not vouch for its veracity. Again, Diana Tam would not discuss the details of individual firings, except to emphasize they were fired "with cause," which we duly printed. — eds.

5. The second employee involved in this incident with Victor Blanco was also fired due to cause. At the time she was reporting the story, the writer was told otherwise by both Blanco and Williams. — eds.

6. Joe Tam denied hiring a union-busting firm because we hired a company to educate management and employees about union facts, the process, and the regulations and union by-laws. This is precisely what we reported. — eds.

7. Joe never said "I told my workers, 'Do not sign this card.'" In fact, our company policy is not to interfere with the employees' decision to sign or not to sign a union card. It has always been and will always be the employees' decision. Our current employees can again verify this point. Emma Pollin stands by the quote. Indeed, she says she had a friend with her who witnessed Joe Tam's statement.


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