UC workers union calls on Bill Clinton to cancel appearance at UC Berkeley

Bill Clinton previously spoke at UC Davis on Oct. 29, 2014. (KENNY CUNNINGHAM / AGGIE)
Bill Clinton previously spoke at UC Davis on Oct. 29, 2014. (KENNY CUNNINGHAM / AGGIE)

Speakers boycott seeks to persuade UC to hire subcontracted workers as direct employees

On Feb. 4, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, the University of California’s largest employee union, called for a speaker’s boycott to bring in nearly 100 subcontracted custodians and parking attendants at UC Berkeley and to hire these workers as direct UC employees.

The protest, which the union hopes will last until the remainder of the spring semester or until the university decides to hire the subcontracted workers, calls for support of speakers who are set to appear at the university to boycott their appearances. Speakers scheduled to appear at UC Berkeley include civil rights activist Angela Davis, former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

Kathryn Lybarger, the Local 3299 president, talked about the issues with the university using subcontractors to employ workers.

UC Berkeley’s refusal to in-source its permanent force of subcontracted workers stands in direct conflict with everything it professes about justice, fairness and social mobility,” Lybarger said. “In asking our state and national leaders to honor this boycott, we are asking them to support the middle-class aspirations of nearly 100 workers that have endured years of exploitation and second class treatment at the public university they serve.”

Todd Stenhouse, a communications director for AFSCME, talked about the protest and what the university’s relationship with the workers means.

“This is literally Berkeley turning a blind eye to the exploitation of immigrants and people of color and it’s not OK,” Stenhouse said. “There’s a very simple way to make it stop. Bring these workers in, treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve and honor their loyalty and their service.”

The workers represented by this boycott comprise mostly immigrants and people of color and are subcontracted by three companies: ABM, Performance First and Laz Parking. Each company has faced allegations of illegal conduct against their workers. Performance First and ABM have each faced accounts of wage theft, while ABM’s issues of sexual assault against its female employees were documented in the 2013 Frontline documentary, “Rape on the Night Shift.”

Janet Gilmore, a representative for UC Berkeley, noted in a statement from the university that the practice of subcontracting workers is permitted under the current contract with AFSCME.

“AFSCME fails to acknowledge that they have a negotiated agreement with the University of California through May 2017,” Gilmore wrote. “Under the terms of that agreement, the use of contract workers is expressly permitted for various purposes, including when they are needed for specialized expertise or when the jobs they fill are temporary in nature.”

The last time Berkeley held a speaker’s boycott was from 2006 to 2007, when students successfully advocated for pay equity for hundreds of UC custodians. Stenhouse is confident that students at the university will be willing to help once again.

“We have great support from students at Berkeley,” Stenhouse said. “If you knew somebody and you saw them everyday and knew that they were being exploited, you would feel a connection to them as well. This boycott is a living and breathing thing.”

Former President Bill Clinton was one of a number of state and national leaders to honor the 2006-2007 boycott. He and Chelsea Clinton are currently set to speak in April when they host a Clinton Global Initiative University event at Cal’s Blum Center for Developing Economies.

Gilmore talked about how discouraging speakers to appear at Berkeley deprives the student body of a meaningful experience.

“It denies our community the benefit of hearing the perspective of state, national and international leaders and scholars and denies our students the opportunity to share their stories and ideas with these leaders,” Gilmore said in the statement. “For many of our students, this type of engagement with political leaders, renowned scholars and others may be a missed once in a lifetime experience.”

Under the University of California’s Fair Wage/Fair Work plan, all non-student UC employees, including contract employees, currently get paid the minimum wage of $13 per hour, which is set to go up to $15 per hour in October 2017. The plan also establishes auditing procedures for contractors to comply with regulations and for employees to report any alleged issues.  

When talking about the UC’s willingness to keep its hiring practices, Stenhouse believes that the university system is above using subcontractors.

“All they want is to be treated as full members of the UC community. Certainly that’s how we see them, certainly that’s how students see them, certainly that’s how many faculty and UC workers see them, but it’s time for the administration and the human resources department to honor them that way,” Stenhouse said. “The UC doesn’t have a problem with the exploitation of this group of primarily immigrants and people of color and they should. UC is a world-class institution, it is a first-class institution, and a first-class institution does not have second-class workers.”

Written by: Ivan Valenzuela – campus@theaggie.org