OAKLAND, Calif. - "Fun, fast-paced and constantly changing work experiences" and "an excellent benefits package" are what the self-proclaimed "leading alcoholic beverage-lifestyle" superstore BevMo! offers prospective employees on its website. But the reality at the chain's 100-plus stores in California and Arizona is far different, say workers told they no longer have full-time work or health coverage.
BevMo! workers and their union and community supporters gathered near the chain's downtown Oakland store Aug. 12 to demand restoration of their full-time positions, health benefits and 401K plans. Along with that, they called for recognition of the union they are organizing in the San Francisco Bay Area, with help from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Rally participants later signed a giant poster listing the workers' demands.
Workers say last month BevMo! started cutting hours, and eliminating health insurance for all full- and part-time staff, with possible exceptions for management and head clerks.
Noting that the steps were taken at the same time BevMo! is hiring more part-time workers and opening new stores, Catherine Cordero, a head clerk at the Emeryville store, told the crowd the company's actions are "the latest in a despicable chain of events being carried out by BevMo's new owners," the private equity firm TowerBrook Capital Partners.
"They have continued the trend in the retail and food service industry of creating permanent part-time jobs," Cordero said, "forcing our families into crisis, creating a negative impact on our well-established customer service, and all the while expecting our local communities - we the taxpayers - to foot the bill when it comes to financial assistance."
Local 5 President Ron Lind pointed out that the BevMo! workers "are victims of an all-too-frequent example of 21st century corporate greed and arrogance" from a successful company "that sees workers as nothing more than numbers on time cards."
Barbara Baird, a cashier at another Bay Area BevMo store, spoke with the People's World after the group marched to BevMo's front door to present their demands to a startled-looking manager. Baird described her difficulties on the job.
Now eight-and-a-half months pregnant, Baird said when she asked to use a chair instead of standing throughout her shift, she was told to stack up wine boxes to sit on instead. When she requested help to move the boxes, she said she was "made to feel like I was a major inconvenience."
After Baird had to leave work twice for hospital visits because she was bleeding, she said her hours were slashed from 40 to 12 a week, "with no regard to bills needing to be paid, no regard for anything whatsoever besides their numbers."
"I can't put into words what the union means to people like me and the rest of the workers - to have someone say this isn't fair, this isn't a correct way to treat a human being, pregnant or not," Baird said.
Mario Munoz, a sales associate at the Oakland store who specializes in wines, said his former schedule of 37-40 hours a week has dropped to 29, creating hardships for his family, which has cut back on such basics as groceries, and a laptop for a college-bound daughter.
He said problems with management began to emerge over the last couple of years, accelerating in the last few weeks with across-the-boards cuts in workers' hours and elimination of benefits.
UFCW Local 5, which represents some 26,000 mainly retail workers around the Bay Area, reported Aug. 13 that BevMo! has hired a union-busting "labor consultant" to thwart the workers' efforts to form a union. Noting that the union has often seen companies hire outsiders "to intimidate and coerce their employees and lie about unionization," Local 5 President Lind declared, "We have news for BevMo! It's not going to work this time!"
Photo: PW/Marilyn Bechtel