Undergraduate Workers Union holds speak-out against unjust working conditions

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Sakura Cannestra/File

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The Undergraduate Student Workers Union held a speak-out Wednesday to educate the public about the concerns of the group of primarily Cal Dining employees, including food insecurity, wage theft and harassment.

During the speak-out, the panelists also addressed workplace injuries, the lack of specific job responsibilities and the firing of Crossroads worker Grace Lin, whose termination group members allege was related to their activism against workplace harassment. Campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff denied many of the allegations and said the campus has been unsuccessful in attempts to meet leaders of the organization to discuss concerns.

At the meeting, Jed Bruni, a campus junior who works at Crossroads Dining, said although many workers struggle to eat each day, the dining hall composts a significant amount of food every night.

“How can you solve big problems in the future … if you can’t even do small things to help support people who want to help you?” asked Victor Huang, a Foothill Dining employee.

Bruni also alleged that in 2015, a change in management resulted in “condensed job descriptions,” which he said made it easier for management to include new responsibilities that dining employees were previously not allowed to do, such as janitorial work.

Additionally, Bruni and Huang said they and many others had allegedly not been given their semesterly 25 cent hourly wage increases due to delays. The student workers said despite requesting back pay for the lost wages, they are unsure when they will receive it.

“Cal Dining would never intentionally hold any appropriate back pay to any employee,” Ratliff said in an email. “CalTime glitches may have delayed this in some instances, but in those cases it will be resolved, with the back pay issued.”

Ratliff, who noted that UWU is not officially registered as a union, also denied many of the panel’s other allegations.

Ratliff said all edible food is either repurposed or given to a local food bank. He added that student workers are given a free meal for every shift they work.

Additionally, the campus has taken measures to protect the health and safety of Cal Dining locations and has hired its own health inspection group and invited UC Berkeley Environment, Health & Safety to serve as Cal Dining’s official health inspector in recent years.

Elise Magno, a union representative from the Local 2010 Teamsters in attendance Wednesday, said the Teamsters fully support the efforts of the student workers to unionize.

Magno said that those in the Teamsters go through similar problems as the workers in the dining halls, such as struggling with food insecurity. The Teamsters are in the process of setting up a meeting with UWU to discuss how the Teamsters can help their cause.

“While we don’t know at what capacity we will offer support from a local level, Teamster members at the UC Berkeley campus fully support the students’ actions to unionize and we will continue to offer our support and help depending on what they need from us,” Magno said.

Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @K_Tinney.

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