UC Berkeley has rehired five Eshleman Hall custodians who were issued layoff notices in August because of the building’s impending demolition.
When it issued the layoff notices, campus labor management offered to rehire the custodians if new positions became available. Though the custodians have now been officially rehired, the initial uncertainty of their employment prompted a protest by a workers’ union in September.
“This was a big moment because these layoffs were totally unnecessary — there were open positions in other custodial departments,” said Sarah Leadem, an organizer of the statewide UC service and patient care workers’ union AFSCME Local 3299, which led the protest. “Their rationale was, ‘We’re getting rid of the building, so get rid of workers.’”
Eshleman Hall is being demolished as a part of the Lower Sproul renovation project, which aims to make the plaza more lively for students by improving the area’s functionality, safety and overall appearance.
Positions have now been provided to all five workers, four of them employed through Physical Plant Campus Services and one hired through Residential Services, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.
AFSCME intern Devonte Jackson speculated that the decision to rehire the custodians was partly a consequence of the protest.
“The protest definitely brought more attention to the case of these five workers, and management made sure this was a priority because we took direct action,” Jackson said. “This is the power of student-worker unity.”
Gilmore said the decision to rehire was not associated with the protest and that the process for rehire was already under way prior to it. According to Gilmore, employees were given preferential rehire rights to be considered for re-employment based on qualification, though there was no guarantee for reinstatement.
“These are valued employees,” Gilmore said. “We are pleased that they were able to retain employment on campus.”
Maricruz Manzanarez, a senior custodian who works with AFSCME, said to expedite the process of finding the laid-off custodians new positions on campus, union activists scoped out open positions and forwarded them to campus management.
“We wouldn’t have known there were openings or not if it weren’t for the union,” said Leroy Thomas, one of the five custodians. “My only other option would have been to retire.”
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