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Bobos Get a Break 

Wednesday, Aug 30 2000
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Bobo alert! It‘s safe to tuck a La Brea Bakery baguette into your hemp shopping tote once again.

Teamsters Local 63 and La Brea Bakery management last week settled a five-day walkout by drivers and packers that had threatened the bruschetta and brunch menus of conscience-stricken bourgeois bohemians (bobos) across the Southland (the name comes from Weekly Standard editor David Brooks’ scathing indictment of luxury-lovin‘ libs, Bobos in Paradise).

Both sides claimed victory in the agreement, which calls for a union election, probably on September 22.

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”As I understand it, we had a petition signed by everybody over there recognizing the union and asking to put the contract back in place,“ said Local 63 representative Joe Foss. (The union rep on the bakery campaign, Hector Fernandez, was unavailable for comment.)

”The irony of all this is they went out for five days and all they got was an election, which was already on the table,“ said La Brea labor lawyer Robert Bekken. ”Now the employees will have to look at what took place and decide are these the people they want to trust with their future?“

La Brea quit recognizing the Teamsters when the union’s three-year contract expired on July 15. Chief Operating Officer Philip Shaw claimed that a majority of the company‘s 77 drivers and packers had petitioned management -- unsolicited -- in April, asking to dump the union. (Citing employee confidentiality, both Shaw and the company labor lawyer declined to furnish a copy of the names on the petition.) The rest of La Brea’s 433 employees are not unionized, Shaw said.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), however, subsequently filed three charges of unfair labor practices against La Brea Bakery, including a June 27 charge that the company had actively circulated petitions to get rid of the union, and had offered or granted employee raises to discourage union support.

Shaw denied the NLRB‘s charges and pointed instead to allegations of illegal strike tactics on the part of the Teamsters, including locking a driver in his truck. (NLRB spokesman Tony Bisceglia said the complaints -- filed by both La Brea and Gelson’s markets, which carry the company‘s breads -- are under investigation.) After ending recognition of the Teamsters, La Brea raised the level of drivers’ benefits to match those of nonunion employees, Shaw said, but he denied it was a quid pro quo. (He also declined to discuss specifics of drivers‘ wages or other compensation.)

”I grew up in a family that supported [Cesar] Chavez and built preschools for Latino children,“ said Shaw. ”My point would be, if people are truly interested in people’s right to express their will as far as union representation or no union representation, they will be supportive of what La Brea Bakery did.“

All NLRB complaints will be dropped as part of the settlement, said Bekken, which shifts the spotlight to the upcoming election. News flash! Both La Brea and the union expect to triumph.

As for the possibility of residual damage to the reputation of La Brea, which in just 11 years has grown to be a national distributor and leader in the revival of artisan-style bread, Shaw says he doesn‘t expect any fallout from disillusioned bobos.

”We didn’t have an effective loss of revenue, and it didn‘t hurt the bakery’s prestige,“ he said.

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