Student Labor Committee members occupy Haas Pavilion, protest alleged termination of contract worker

Sierra Brown/Staff

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Fourteen members and supporters of the Student Labor Committee participated in a sit-in outside the office of the campus director of intercollegiate athletics Thursday to protest the alleged termination of a contract worker.

The sit-in happened concurrently with a rally on Lower Sproul Plaza at 2:30 p.m. to show solidarity with the worker, Lizbeth Zuniga. Zuniga’s employment was not terminated, however, and she will continue to work 40 hours a week, according to an email from Lisa Aguiar, the lawyer for the independent custodial contractor of UC Berkeley that employs Zuniga.

UCPD issued a final admonishment about 8 p.m., and eight students who refused to leave were forcibly removed and cited with trespassing and disrupting a business. The students were given a Nov. 30 court date.  

Performance First has been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor after its employees alleged that the company underpaid workers who clean campus athletic facilities and refused to pay them for overtime.

Zuniga, who has worked for Performance First for four years, said through a translator that she was told by her manager that Thursday was her last day. She said she was only offered an opportunity to transfer to the Simpson Center, a campus athlete-training facility, where her workdays would be cut to three a week.

She added that as a single mother of three children, with one daughter entering college this year, she would not be able to support her family working less than 40 hours per week.

After negotiations with UCPD Lt. Marc DeCoulode, campus Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Michael Williams agreed to talk with the students, along with campus labor relations director Debra Harrington, about Zuniga’s alleged termination and the controversy of UC contracting.

“I have no control over the hiring process of Performance First,” Williams said. “I can only look at whether they abide by what they told us they’ll do, and we’re looking into that. And if they’re not, then we’ll end our relationship with them.”

When Zuniga reported to work on what she thought would be her last day, she received written confirmation from Performance First that she would keep her job and that her hours would not be cut.

Upon learning that Zuniga would be able to remain employed under Performance First, the student protesters demanded that she be hired as a UC worker, a position that would give her more benefits.

“The university has positions open,” Harrington said in response to student demands that Zuniga be hired as a UC worker. “People who want to work for the university need to apply, and they are encouraged to apply.”

But students at the sit-in alleged that interviews to become a UC worker are often discriminatory and that workers are often judged based on their English skills despite having done custodial work for years.

“It’s a humiliating process. It is not welcoming to contract workers,” said Kristian Kim, a UC Berkeley senior and member of the Student Labor Committee who participated in the sit-in.

Students at the protest said this would not be the last time they demonstrated for increased UC worker rights.

“Students are fed up, and we’re going to escalate,” said David Lemus, a participant in the sit-in and member of the Student Labor Committee. “This is halfway through the semester, and we have time to do plenty of things. This is not the last time that we’re going to come here.”

Contact Jessica Lynn at [email protected].