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Fired Metro Lighting workers respond to anti-IWW screed published in Berkeley Daily Planet

By Gabe Wilson and Matt K., Bay Area IWW

This commentary is a response to Christine Staples' "Truth to Power: what Truth? What Power?" of November 16th, 2007, in which the author attempts to portray the striking workers at Metro Lighting and their union as thugs attempting to "take over Metro Lighting, or to drive them out of business trying." These accusations are too ridiculous to deserve a response, and they only serve to divert attention from the real issues at the store. Her editorial makes no attempt to deal seriously with the concerns of Metro Lighting's employees, so we would like to make these real issues known.

Workers have the right, protected by law, to take concerted activity to improve their conditions at work and to bargain with their employer over these conditions. The workers at Metro Lighting were brave enough to assert this right, and have faced unwillingness to negotiate and illegal retaliation from the owners. What led up to this?

Staples is quick to brush away the grievances that drove workers to speak up for themselves, but the demands were real and reasonable. The first was a wage issue. The three retail workers, were making 10 dollars an hour, plus a commission that averaged 2 more dollars an hour. They proposed that their wage be increased to 12 dollars an hour. Christa and Lawrence met this request with hostility and refused to negotiate.

Next was the issue of ageism, which Staples doesn't even try to address. Bruce Cockrill, a 3-year employee of Metro Lighting, is significantly older than the other workers at the shop. He's 61, which naturally means his medical requirements are more significant than his coworkers. Lawrence and Crista's response was to pay Bruce 4 dollars per hour less than the rest of his coworkers, citing his increased medical coverage as the reason for paying his sub-standard wage. Was that fair or ethical? Bruce's coworkers didn't think so and they asked that his pay be equalized and that he be compensated for his years of work at the lower wage.

The company refused to agree to a viable solution to these serious issues, and when employees showed up to work and caustic alkaline was being improperly disposed of, with the potential of putting harmful chemicals into the air where they worked, it was the last straw.

Simply looking at the material safety data sheet clearly shows how dangerous enprep 160se is," Corrosive to the respiratory system. May cause severe irritation or burns. Exposure can cause lung irritation, chest pain and edema, which may be fatal. Corrosive to the digestive tract. Can cause target organ damage. Adverse symptoms may include the following: nausea or vomiting stomach pains Ingestion may cause gastrointestinal irritation and diarrhea. WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer."

When they refused to work under potentially toxic and hazardous conditions, they were ­ quite literally ­ "locked out." The owners changed the locks within 24 hours to prevent the workers' access to the store. The subsequent pickets had begun.

If workers choose to be members of the IWW, that is their right, and 6 of the 7 Metro lighting employees carry union cards. Today, however, you will not see any of them in the store, as they are on strike until Metro chooses to recognize the issues and resolve them. Meanwhile, one of the lead union organizers at the store, Gabe Wilson, has been fired.

Lawrence and Crista have dreamed up creative reasons for his termination, but it is obvious that he was illegally fired for his efforts to improve the lives of his fellow workers and himself. Unfair Labor Practice charges are pending against the company for this blatant attempt to bust the union.

If you do want to "speak truth to power" as Christine Staples suggests, call Metro Lighting and tell them you won't shop there until the fired union member is reinstated and the owners negotiate with the workers.