Letters for the week of October 1-7, 2003 

Good luck at the polls Tuesday. Good workplaces have contracts. Good stocks are always risky. Good story at last; please repeat.

"Children of Om," Feature, 9/24

Piero speaks out

I have been accused of trading on my popularity in this city, and of being willing to selfishly involve my family in what for them is still, and should remain, a very private matter. I feel this is true. Once again, I have caused damage by speaking without thinking of how it would affect my family. I apologize to my family for involving them in this, and hope they can forgive this selfish act. The mention of one of my brothers being "said to be an addict" is flat-out slander, and to have printed this without interviewing him directly is a violation of his life and is also not true.

My involvement in this has caused my entire family untold suffering, as well as jeopardized their standing in the community, and made them out to be something they are not. My own story stands. Their experiences are another matter entirely. Please understand this clarification is absolutely vital to the accuracy and truth of the story that my sister and I told.

Breaking silence and violating family trust are two different things. I think I have done the latter, in not insuring that my words were correctly portrayed. This is in no way the error or fault of Katy St. Clair, but rather the fault of my anger and rush to hurt, expose, and get even with William Brumfield. And it has backfired on my family. I must make it clear to my family that I know the difference between my ideas and their truth. I ask my family to forgive the damage my involvement in this story has caused all of them.
Piero Amadeo Infante, Berkeley

"E-Voting: Fast, Cheap, Vulnerable?" Cityside, 9/10

Voters should know more

Readers of Alex Handy's e-voting article are barely introduced to the glaring and growing scandals surrounding the no-paper-trail, nonauditable touch-screen systems now in place throughout Alameda County and all over the country. To learn more, a good starting place is BlackBoxVoting.org
Mike Hall, Albany

Critics need not apply

The last words in the article on e-voting referred to the need for poll workers, and were "hackers need not apply."

Critics of the current system in Alameda County need not apply, either. I was the inspector at my local polling place for every election for a number of years, was "certified" as an inspector, and routinely got feedback forms with no errors found. After some preliminary training on the Diebold touch-screen voting machines before the machines were put into use countywide, I send Brad Clark an e-mail outlining the possible problems with these machines. I did not receive a reply and I was never contacted regarding my multiple applications to be a poll worker since. I believe I was blacklisted for raising the issues with these machines, at a time when they could possibly have been remedied.
Doug Faunt, Oakland

"Bowling for the Bottom Line," City of warts, 9/24

Negotiate now

The Express is known for being light and breezy, but along with news, Chris Thompson's "Bowling for the Bottom Line" dabbles in creative fiction. Fiction is fun, fiction is nice, but instead of playing fast and loose with the work of 250 Berkeley Bowl employees, I believe that a little more research would have been appropriate.

Thompson's article states that "It pays wages on par with the industry standard, all full-time workers get health benefits, and the workplace culture is still unlike any other." If I were working at a store with the standard union contract, I'd earn six dollars more an hour. I count money all day, so I know that six dollars an hour isn't a negligible number. As to health care for full-time employees, I've been working for the store for fourteen months, and for twelve of those months I was working 45 to 65 hours a week, and I've never qualified for health insurance. I recently lowered to 32 hours a week, so any hope I have of gaining health insurance from work has gone the way of last summer's peaches. Under the standard industry contract, I would have qualified for health care almost a year ago. As to the "workplace culture;" many Berkeley Bowl front-end employees don't wear uniforms; it makes the food seem cheaper. Every time we hire people with tattoos and piercings, customers think they are getting a deal. You'd be surprised how much it works.

Thompson said, "In addition, there's more at stake than working conditions -- the Bowl's very atmosphere depends on the idiosyncratic personality of its founder, and introducing an industrial model of labor relations to the store threatens its very identity." Unionizing the store will allow representatives from each department to work on a contract with management, replacing the series of memos and unwritten rules that serve as the current employee handbook. With rigorous editing, the current policy guide could be shortened to two clauses, "Do whatever we say, or we'll fire you," and "Even if you do what we say, we reserve the right to fire you at whim."

These policies keep a steady flow people working and leaving the store. The low pay, long hours, and feeling of existential dread that comes along with not having input in your treatment or working conditions does an impressive job of keeping the turnover high enough so that the owners aren't burdened with having to worry about too many employees qualifying for health care.

Thompson has an idealized vision of the store that, in reality, only bears a passing resemblance to the store in which I work. The good news is that almost all issues concerning labor/management relations, wages, hours, pension, and conduct could be solved if the workers and the management sit down and negotiate a contract. No more firings. No more walkouts. We can get this settled by Halloween, if the management of the store agrees to work a contract with the employees. Negotiating a contract is civil. It's the way sensible adults resolve issues.
Irami Osei-Frimpong, union organizer, Berkeley

EDITOR'S NOTE

On the issue of health benefits, our article was indeed at error. According to Berkeley Bowl manager Dan Kataoka, seven of the store's roughly two hundred full-time employees do not have health benefits, although letter-writer Osei-Frimpong suggested in a subsequent interview that more employees lack benefits. As for our assertion that wages are typical for the industry, this is a matter of dispute. Kataoka says hourly wages range from $7 to $19.50, which is on par with the Bowl's competitors. Osei-Frimpong, however, claims that he doesn't know anyone who makes $19.50 an hour, and that most employees earn closer to his salary of $13 an hour.

The article also erroneously asserted that Andy Ross bought Cody's Books after the death of its founder, Fred Cody.

As for the rest of the column, we stand by it. It should be noted that during the course of reporting it, Chris Thompson called Osei-Frimpong and fellow union organizers Eric Feezell and Kevin Meyer several times each over a five-day period. Osei-Frimpong and Feezell did not return his calls, and Meyer was available only briefly and did not call back until after the column went to press.

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