Unionization Fight at Oakland Airport

      SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) – The operator of a Jamba Juice at Oakland International Airport sued Oakland and its Port Commission, claiming city officials are trying to force small businesses to unionize.
     It’s the latest in a battle between airport retailers and the port over the city’s living wage law, which requires port-contracted businesses to pay employees a living wage and give them paid leave.
     In its Aug. 26 federal lawsuit, Oakland-based CMC Food Services accuses the port of discriminating against small, local businesses by abusing the living wage law and regulations.
     CMC claims the port’s goal is to force businesses to enter collective bargaining agreements with a union.
     The lawsuit is the latest development in a complex legal battle involving airport retailers, the port and unions. At the heart of the matter is a 2002 ballot measure that created a living wage for employees of port-contracted businesses. The law includes an exemption for businesses with 20 or fewer employees.
     In 2006 the port created a policy mandating that all new tenants – no matter how many employees they have – follow living wage requirements, according to a June article in the East Bay Express, detailing the fight between the port and the businesses.
     Last year the port determined that Jamba Juice, run by CMC, and Subway, run by NNF Grewal Inc., violated their leases by not allowing workers paid time off, including sick leave, according to the Express. The franchises also retaliated against workers by firing them after they filed wage complaints, the port found.
     But the businesses fought back, filing a petition in Alameda County Superior Court after the port investigation. According to the Express, in a recent ruling, Alameda Judge Evelio Grillo questioned whether the port’s 2006 policy to force all tenants to abide by living wage standards can trump the law’s original exemption for small businesses.
     CMC operates a Jamba Juice and a Gordon Biersch bar at the airport, totaling about 15 employees. Joe Cook, president of CMC, told the Oakland newspaper that his employees are paid at least the current living wage of $13.75 an hour and get five days of paid time off after a year. But Cook told the Express that the airport’s declining popularity has put a dent in business and the company is “barely paying [its] bills,”
     A Subway employee who was fired after filing a complaint but then rehired, told the Express that the sick day policy remains substandard and that she goes to work even if she’s sick.
     CMC claims in its lawsuit that the port has been trying to strong-arm businesses into a collective bargaining agreement since 2012.
     CMC claims that port staff encouraged the company to allow the union Unite Here to start a public procedure to determine whether employees were interested in unionizing, rather than the company’s preferred method of holding a private, National Labor Relations Board-supervised ballot election.
     When the company refused, the union organized a boycott of the Jamba Juice, and then allowed union agents to interrupt the restaurant’s operations, according to the lawsuit.
     In April, the port adopted a resolution that would require CMC to enter a labor peace agreement with a union. The port knows Unite Here is demanding a public “card check” procedure, which would allow the union to target and pressure employees to unionize, the lawsuit states.
     “If CMC is forced to waive its rights under the National Labor Relations Act, CMC will be unable to stay in business at the airport,” according to the complaint.
     CMC seeks declaratory judgment, an injunction, and damages for civil rights violations.
     It is represented by Amira Jackmon, of Berkeley.

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