San Diego 'I was on the speakerphone with Ballard Smith, Ron Hahn, and one of the Shihadeh brothers. I said, 'What do you me mean, "fit the mold"? You got hot dogs, you got nachos, you got popcorn - what the hell else are you selling there?' All of a sudden I heard in the background, 'We don't want any more of these old, fat, slow women.' Somebody snatched the receiver and quickly said, 'He didn't say fat. He didn't say women. He didn't say old.' "
Speaking is Jef Eatchel, 38, secretary-treasurer of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Local Number 30. The subject of his telephone conversation was the loss of jobs, or more precisely, the termination of 86 Local 30 members who were serving food and beverages at the San Diego Sports Arena. The reality is that 86 workers with an average of ten years of service were told on April 30, 1996, that their jobs were gone. All sides agree to that. But no further.
One year later I am sitting in Eatchel's office at union headquarters on Juniper Street in San Diego. The man is quick. He thinks fast and he talks fast. He has a tanned, clean-shaven face, short brown hair, brown mustache, and vibrant green eyes. According to a "Petition to Compel Arbitration," which was filed by the union in the United States District Court, Southern District of California, "Under a lease from the City of San Diego, San Diego Entertainment, Inc., operates the Sports Arena and grants the beverage concession license. In September 1985, S.D. Entertainment granted Premier an exclusive license to sell food and beverages at the Sports Arena." The license was later extended to April 30, 1996.
"Premier Food Services, Inc., and Premier Food Services Management Group entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the union with a duration of December 15, 1995, to June 30, 2000." Ballard Smith and George Karetas were officers, directors, and the sole shareholders of the Premier corporations.
"On September 24, 1993, Ballard Smith entered into a written license agreement with S.D. Entertainment. While still an officer, director, and major shareholder of Premier, Smith obtained the New License Agreement but obtained it in his own name.... Smith purportedly obtained the New License Agreement on behalf of Premier but actually obtained it in his own name and then transferred it to Arena Foods with no compensation to Premier for that asset.
"On April 30, 1996, Premier/Smith terminated all eighty-six employees of Premier who worked at the San Diego Sports Arena; and Arena Foods/ Smith hired new, non-union employees at substantially reduced hourly rates of pay and without medical benefits..."
The union lost this petition to compel arbitration. According to Dennis Hayes, the local's attorney, "The court felt that since Karetas was not part of Ballard Smith's plan, but instead, was in effect, a competitor, the court could not apply the alter ego or mere continuance doctrines."
That's what one lawyer says. Lawyers say anything. Also, the above is but the first baby step into a swamp of charge, countercharge, lawsuits, and arrests. The more interesting question is, What would you do if you felt responsible for 86 7- or 8-buck-an-hour jobs?
As Eatchel said to Ballard Smith, "Look, you have to understand this ain't going to go away. I am never fucking going to go away. If I'm still breathing, you got problems, because what happened was wrong."
When Ballard Smith moved to Idaho in the fall of 1996, Eatchel placed ads in the Ketchum newspaper alerting the 3000 residents to the events that occurred in San Diego. He has sued. He hired a truck and installed large billboards on either side. The signs read, "86 People Were Fired from Their Jobs at Ron Hahn's Sports Arena for the Price of a Beer! Ballard Smith/Shihadeh Bros. Refuses to Negotiate. Boycott the Sports Arena Until We Get Our Jobs Back!" The truck was then driven to Ron Hahn's neighborhood in Rancho Santa Fe, toddled onto the Rancho Santa Fe Country Club, downtown La Jolla, around to Clairemont, and could often be seen parked in front of a Little Caesar's restaurant.
Eatchel has lobbied city council for an ordinance that would require new contractors on city-owned property to retain current employees for 90 days. He has leafleted certain areas of town: "Ballard Smith (with his fraudulently purchased extension) entered into a contract with three brothers (Shihadeh), who also franchise with several Little Caesar's Pizza outlets, to take over the food and beverage at the Sports Arena. The Shihadehs brought in all their own employees at minimum wage and no benefits...." And lately, Eatchel has introduced street theater into the conflict - dressing up as the Grim Reaper and handing out leaflets at the Sports Arena that read, "86 Jobs Dead." "It was about six weeks ago." Eatchel reaches into a desk drawer and retrieves color photographs of six women arranged in a semicircle modeling chocolate-brown monk robes, hoods, and rope belts. Four of them are holding candles. People are smiling an embarrassed smile the way you do when you're the first one to arrive at a costume party. "They look like a real rowdy group, don't they?" Eatchel laughs.
"We had 50 people at the Sports Arena. We met underneath the marquee in the parking lot. We have videotape of me doing my normal speech. I tell our people, 'We are not in here to cause problems. When you hand a flier out to somebody, this is how you do it.' " Eatchel hands an imaginary piece of paper to an imaginary Sports Arena patron. " 'Enjoy yourself tonight. Here, I've got something for you to read.'
"So, we handed out leaflets, and after a while we went inside the arena to a food concession stand. We made a semicircle around the stand with three feet in between us so customers could get in and out. We stood there just like this." Eatchel solemnly stands up from his desk, hands clasped below his waist, a sorrowful grimace slapped on his face.