Berkeley Student Cooperative pushes for cuts to employee benefits

Samantha Rosenbaum/File

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Student leaders of the Berkeley Student Cooperative have pushed for cuts to employee benefits in ongoing contract negotiations with employees, according to a statement released Thursday.

The BSC Employee Association, a collective bargaining committee composed of BSC staff members, detailed in its press release that the BSC Board of Directors has proposed halving retirement benefits and medical contributions to dependents, increasing the 35-hour workweek to 40 hours and eliminating benefits for part-time employees.

The board of directors, made up of students elected by BSC members, has been engaged in negotiations with the Employee Association since October to develop a new labor contract. According to Kevin Cleek, a member of the Employee Association’s negotiation team, the board’s push for austerity measures comes as a surprise from a group that voted to support the Occupy movement last year.

“It’s pretty ironic,” Cleek said in the statement. “The employees are here because we support the values of the BSC.”

Representatives from the board of directors declined to comment.

According to Caitlyn Kelly-Kilgore, president of the Employee Association and a member of its negotiating committee, the board of directors seeks to minimize variable costs such as dependent health care.

However, the press release highlighted that the BSC operated under the same contract for the past 10 years until it expired at the end of December and has run surpluses averaging more than $800,000 per year on $10 million in revenues.

Betsy Putnam, housing supervisor and a member of the negotiating team, also noted that the employees are not demanding increased benefits but are rather only asking to maintain the employee benefits of the previous contract.

“I would like to see the current contract renewed,” Putnam said. “I know our contract has generous benefits, but I know our employees work really hard and are worth it.”

If the board’s proposals succeed, the Employee Association reports that medical costs for midcareer employees are expected to rise by $500 per month and that employees will also lose retirement benefits worth more than $300 per month.

While the increased savings are expected to help the BSC minimize costs, Putnam, who has been working for the BSC for 32 years, voiced concern about the implications of the new contract for the cooperative’s 22 staff members.

“I actually made a decision to work for something I believe in, and I’ve been proud to work for an organization whose mission I fully support,” Putnam said. “I believe in the cooperative, especially the Berkeley Student Cooperative. But I’m terrified that the new contract will go into effect, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Contact Matt Trejo at [email protected].