A Protest with Extra Cheese: Costumed Carpenters' Questionable Claims

Jan. 16, 2009 -- paisano protest 001.jpg
Atsa spicy protest!
San Francisco is a town where you can often turn more heads wearing a three-piece suit than nothing at all. And yet, the sight of two burly union carpenters from the Local 22 handing out fliers in front of Amici's Pizza on King Street -- while dressed as Italian chefs - still manages to get one's attention.

The faux-paisano handed SF Weekly an oxblood-red flier blaring "UNDER INVESTIGATION BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT" ... "Amici's Pizza has hired Pacific Construction and Manufacturing" ... WOULD YOU HIRE A CONTRACTOR WHO'S BEING INVESTIGATED BY THE FEDS?"

As soon as the carpenter found out he was talking to a reporter, he shuddered and said "We're not supposed to talk to you." Perhaps that's because reporters , you know, report - and it turns out the notion Pacific Construction is "being investigated by the feds" is as silly as two carpenters dressing as Mario and Luigi in the middle of a working day. What's more, if union members are making the allegation Pacific is being investigated by the feds - well, then they are, too.

The point of contention between the San Francisco union and the Burlingame-based contractor is something of a Rashomon tale -- involving Ferraris, brawls, and now, pizza.

Paul Cohen, a spokesman for the union, said the dispute traces back to a job at a San Francisco Ferrari dealership in the waning months of 2008. He claims a member of the Local 22 discovered that non-union labor was taking place on the job site, walked on to "talk to union members" and "was pushed around a little bit." The union subsequently filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board charging Pacific with "interfering with a union representative during his lawful duty representing our members."

Not surprisingly, Tim Eastman, Pacific's owner, doesn't recall it that way. First of all, on the Ferrari job, he says all of his subcontractors were union. The client, however, insisted that Italian artisans - who were not union members - install some ornate furniture. "The union told me I needed to 'Do something about that.' I told them, 'Jesus, I'm not really in a position to tell the owner what to do.'"

At this point, Eastman claims a trio of inebriated union men walked onto the site after hours and roughed up one of his supervisors. The police were called, he continued, though no report was taken. The union subsequently filed its complaint with the NLRB - and Pacific filed a counter-complaint.

While the phrase "investigated by the feds" conjures up images of men in dark suits and fedoras breaking down doors and snapping photos with box cameras hoisted over their heads, a pending NLRB case could, technically, be characterized as a federal investigation (so could an investigation by the post office). And yet, with the counter-charge by Pacific, if the union is claiming the contractor is under investigation by the feds, then Local 22 has to acknowledge that it is, too. Finally, lost in all of this, is the notion that being under investigation doesn't necessarily make one guilty -- and that applies to both Pacific and the union.

Cohen told SF Weekly that Amici's isn't the only business the Local 22 is "handbilling" in front of. They're also taking on Starbucks, which has hired non-union contractors. Cohen acknowledged, however, that the carpenters outside of the Starbucks are not dressed as baristas.

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