Berkeley workers strike authorized by 99 percent vote amid contract negotiations

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On Wednesday, 99 percent of Berkeley city workers voted to authorize a strike if the city does not meet their demands for improved safety and increased salary.

Contract negotiations have been going on between Service Employees International Union Local 1021, or SEIU Local 1021, and the city of Berkeley for months, and are set to end June 16. The union plans to strike if it does not reach a favorable agreement, according to Rebecca Webb, a customer service representative working in the 311 call center and a member of SEIU Local 1021.

“We’re looking for a contract that meets the needs of living in the Bay Area and looking at the health and safety of employees,” Webb said.

City workers alleged that Berkeley managers have intimidated workers, engaged in unlawful surveillance and interfered with the right to protest, according to a press release from SEIU Local 1021. Webb added that workers had to vote for this authorization during their lunch break and that many felt pressure from management not to vote.

“We’ve been receiving (Donald) Trump-like intimidation tactics from management, even just to vote for this authorization,” Webb said.

A major concern for the city workers is safety. In 2016, Johnny Tolliver, a city of Berkeley Zero Waste Division truck driver, was killed in a garbage truck, according to Webb. In the press release, a union worker claims that the job is one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the country, and Tolliver’s death prompted negotiations for stronger safety protections.

Because the contract negotiations are ongoing, City Council members were legally not able to comment on specific details.

In a memo responding to the strike authorization vote, Berkeley City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley emphasized what the city has been doing to support employees, including coverage of medical costs and higher salaries than workers in other cities.

The memo also addressed safety concerns raised by the union.

“Safety of employees is paramount,” Williams-Ridley wrote in the memo. “The City has proposed additional safeguards that zero waste drivers are required to immediately report and cease driving any vehicle that may be unsafe until cleared by the mechanic staff.”

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said the council is working to figure out the best way to properly compensate and protect the city’s workers. After hearing stories of workers who lived their whole lives in Berkeley only to be displaced by rising costs, Worthington said the City Council is committed to working with the union to find a solution.

The city’s negotiation team is set to meet with SEIU 1021 multiple times in the next few weeks in the hopes of reaching a compromise.

“It’s going to come down to whether or not there’s enough compromise,” Worthington said. “The council members have to look out for what’s reasonable for the workers.”

Madeleine Gregory covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @mgregory_dc.