Workers unite to protest campus’s treatment of contract workers Wednesday

Audrey McNamara/Staff

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Demonstrators congregated Wednesday afternoon at the intersection of Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue, objecting to UC Berkeley’s conduct toward contract workers.

About 3:30 p.m., protesters organized by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 — a union that represents UC workers — gathered, circulated a petition letter and circled around with picket signs to demand that the campus provide fair treatment for all workers. The crowd consisted of contract workers, union workers and students.

Organizations involved in the protest included AFSCME Local 3299, Fight for $15 and Service Employees International Union.

Later, amid organized chants, nearly 100 demonstrators moved to give speeches, protest and deliver a demand letter to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in front of California Hall.

A representative from Dirks’ office came out from California Hall to receive a demand letter from the protesters.

Demonstrators also spoke out against Performance First Building Services, Inc., a Santa Clara-based janitorial services company that hires contract workers for UC Berkeley. Performance First is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor for allegedly underpaying its workers and not paying them for overtime hours.

The university contracts with outside companies to bring in these contract workers. When asked for comment, UC and campus spokespeople both said the other entity handled contracts with Performance First.

Recently, students, workers and community activists have hosted other events to protest the treatment of contract workers, including a “speak-out” in late September.

On Wednesday, protesters expressed their dissatisfaction with the campus’s alleged unsafe working conditions and understaffing with chants of, “What do we want? Safe staffing. When do we want it? Now,” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down.”

Maricruz Manzanarez, senior custodian in Unit 2, also claimed that many student workers in the dining halls sustain injuries.

“So that’s mainly the big thing(s): Unsafe working conditions, understaffing levels, conversion of temporary employees to career and contracted workers to come in-house,” Manzanarez said.

In her speech, Manzanarez demanded that the campus provide protection for workers and hire more employees instead of extending hours for current employees, and that limited workers be employed as career workers.

“Chancellor Dirks can go missing for a day, a week, a year and this university will still function,” said Libertad Ayala, lead organizer of AFSCME Local 3299, in her speech. “Any of us go missing and this university doesn’t function.”

The protest ended about 5 p.m. with workers saying that they will return.

“We’re saying enough is enough, and UC has to be responsible for what they’re doing,” Manzanarez said. “UC Berkeley needs to bring those workers in-house. It’s just the moral and right thing to do.”

Contact Ericka Shin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ericka_shin