ASUC Student Union Board of Directors agrees to set working condition standards

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Sally Littlefield/Staff

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The ASUC Student Union Board of Directors agreed to define standards for working conditions for future Student Union employees at a Wednesday meeting in response to demands from current campus contract workers.

The board has collaborated with Chartwells, a food-management company, to select the restaurants that will occupy the new Student Union, expected to open in Lower Sproul this fall. Additionally, Chartwells will manage the employees who will work there.

Workers employed by outside firms such as Chartwells are contract workers and generally receive lower wages and benefits and have less job security than workers in similar positions who are employed directly by the University of California, according to meeting attendees.

The board passed a motion to codify the standards with which it expects Chartwells to treat its employees, plus another motion to assign the subcommittee on budget and finance the long-term goal of making all employees at Lower Sproul UC employees.

At the meeting, representatives from student and community organizations urged the board to ensure all laborers are given fair wages and benefits.

Kevin Reyes, a UC Berkeley student, asked the board to reassess its contract with Chartwells, which he said pays low wages and denies “critical safety nets” such as health care and retirement benefits to its employees.

Campus contract workers employed by the firm ABM spoke through a translator about the difficulties they face supporting their families through their contract wages.

One worker said she had a starting salary of $9 an hour, while UC employees with the same job had a starting salary of $17. She also said that after being promised a raise to $14, which she said was the maximum any ABM employee can make, her wages only went up to $12.

“I have a daughter who is in high school right now, and I would really like for her to go to college, but with my salary it’s really hard to support her,” said one employee.

Another employee who had to find a second job to support his family said he would like to see his 14-year-old son attend UC Berkeley.

“I want to say thank you to all the workers who came here today and shared their experiences … that really moved me,” said Jenna Kingkade, president of the Graduate Assembly, at the meeting.

Kingkade acknowledged that the workers, who declined to give their full names for fear of losing their jobs, were “taking a risk” by sharing their stories and said at the meeting that the board needed to “look at options to renegotiate the contract with Chartwells.”

“I think there’s a lot of unanswered questions, and I think we all are on board with the concerns that were expressed,” said John Ready, chair of the board. “We’re interested in really investigating and seeing what we can do as a Student Union to address them.”

Kristian Kim, a member of the Student Labor Committee, a Berkeley student group that organizes in solidarity with campus workers, said that the board’s actions do not meet the demands of workers or the standards of UC employment.

“I think we have a right especially as students who are paying into this institution … to demand better of them, and we will,” she said.

The board will next meet Aug. 18.

Contact Sally Littlefield at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @slittlefield3.