UC Berkeley Agrees to Hire Subcontracted Workers After Threats of Boycott

UC Berkeley announced that it would offer employment to nearly 100 workers contracted to work on the campus through private companies on Mar. 18. The decision came after threats of a “speaker’s boycott” from the University of California’s largest labor union — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 3299 — over the outsourcing of jobs to companies that underpay their workers.

The University of California hires at least 45 different private companies to fill staffing positions across the UC campuses in the areas of custodial work, food services, landscaping, security, parking and more, according to an AFSCME 3299 report. The same report concluded that these workers are paid as little as 53 percent less than workers who are employed directly by the University of California and do not receive the same benefits.

The nearly 100 subcontracted workers, who were just recently hired by the university, were described as having “more than 440 years of combined experience working at UC Berkeley,” but were paid below the wage of an official UC employee, according to Stenhouse.

AFSCME 3299 called for a guest speaker’s boycott at UC Berkeley in the spring if the administration did not bring these subcontracted workers under UC employment. Leaders including California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, state senators Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge) and Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), human rights activist Angela Davis and various nonprofit directors cancelled or postponed their speaking arrangements at UC Berkeley to honor the boycott.

In addition, the union planned to picket President Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative Event, which is scheduled to take place at UC Berkeley on April 1. However, AFSCME 3299 called off the boycott and the protest upon UC Berkeley’s announcement that administrators would hire the workers.

AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger celebrated the UC administration’s decision to hire these workers on a decent wage and with benefits they did not have under their private-contractor companies.

“This agreement is an important first step that … ends the exploitation of our colleagues at UC Berkeley … and reduces the drain on the California’s taxpayer subsidized social safety net by pulling nearly a hundred families out of poverty,” Lybarger said in a Mar. 21 press release.

AFSCME 3299 spokesman Todd Stenhouse told the UCSD Guardian that if the administration can directly hire these workers, then it can hire others at the remaining UC campuses.

[The University of California’s] settlement acknowledges that its use and abuse of subcontractors had nothing to do with temporary seasonal staffing needs, and that it has the ability to do right by these workers,” Stenhouse said. “We know that there are many more similarly situated workers across the UC system, and believe that their service to the [UC] warrants direct employment with the university.”

The UC administration has yet to make a statement on the decision to hire the subcontracted workers at UC Berkeley. However, this past February, the UC Office of the President told the Guardian that despite what AFSCME 3299 claimed, there was “no violation of the collective bargaining agreement” and that “the rationale employed by the campus was sound.”

Lyaberger promised that AFSCME 3299 would continue to challenge the UC system’s use of subcontracted workers at the remaining UC campuses.

“We will continue to fight [the UC system’s] reliance on private contractors for its permanent staffing needs across the UC system,” Lyaberger said. “Nothing could be more at odds with the public mission of our state’s third largest employer than awarding multi-million dollar contracts to companies that profit from growing the ranks of California’s Medicaid-reliant working poor.”

Stenhouse noted that a measure was currently being discussed in the California Senate to guarantee equal pay for subcontracted workers. Senate Bill 959 would guarantee “equal pay for equal work” for the UC system’s subcontracted work force. Originally proposed in the California Senate by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) as Senate Bill 376, it was vetoed by Gov. Brown after a “fierce, UC led lobbying campaign against the measure,” according to the press release.

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