Berkeley City Council passes item in support of campus speakers’ boycott

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Tim Hyon/Staff

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At its Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council adopted a resolution to support UC Berkeley’s subcontracted workers and endorse AFSCME Local 3299’s speakers’ boycott on campus.

The boycott intends to highlight the issue of subcontracted employees on campus, said AFSCME Local 3299 spokesperson Todd Stenhouse, who added that those workers are often paid less than workers employed directly by the university and face alleged labor abuses such as wage theft. The council’s resolution would send a message that the public recognizes the concerns of subcontracted workers, he said.

“It’s a sad situation, you know, where employees have worked for many, many years but they don’t have the proper treatment by the companies,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin and Worthington both voiced support for the adoption of the resolution, with Worthington describing the allegations of wage theft as “sad and disgusting.”

Both Worthington and Arreguin said they supported the speakers’ boycott by refusing to speak on campus. Arreguin noted he had chosen not to speak at events to honor the boycott, even in light of the upcoming mayoral elections and his campaign.

“By honoring the boycott, (we are) living up to making sure that people living in our community are paid a living wage,” Arreguin said. “(The resolution) draws attention to the issue and sends a message to the university that this is something the city cares about.”

Arreguin said he hoped the resolution would build public pressure on the campus to act, adding that he wants all positions to be made permanent so workers would receive full-time wages.

“We have been heartened to see so many … standing for the middle class aspirations of these subcontracted workers,” Stenhouse said regarding City Council’s resolution. “We need a course correction, and we need it now.”

The resolution did not pass unanimously, however, as Councilmember Linda Maio and Mayor Tom Bates abstained from the vote.

Maio noted during the meeting that the campus had offered to hire 35 subcontracted workers, although the workers had asked for 59 workers to be hired. The campus could not afford to hire this many workers, Maio said, especially because they had no operational need for them.

“I think there’s a lot more for me to know before I can support this,” Maio said during the meeting.

Worthington said during the meeting that while the city did share a contractor with the university, the issue was very different. While the city of Berkeley had a living wage ordinance that applied to any company working with it, he said, the company could pay workers at UC Berkeley much less.

With the passage of the resolution, the council will send a copy of the resolution to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

During the meeting, City Council also honored Peter Dale Scott, a former campus English professor and co-founder of the campus peace and conflict studies program, as the city’s Artist of the Month. In addressing the council, Scott said he was “grateful for this chance to acknowledge how important Berkeley has been in (his) life.”

Contact Shradha Ganapathy and Patricia Serpa at [email protected].