UC workers, students protest Wednesday, alleging unfair treatment in jobs

Rachael Garner/Senior Staff

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About 50 students and workers protested in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building and California Hall on Wednesday, alleging unfair treatment and unsafe working conditions in UC jobs.

Protesters, some wearing their UC uniforms, formed a ring in front of the Student Union before marching to California Hall. While most participants were union or contract workers for the university, several students also took part in the protest, which was organized by the Student Labor Committee.

Previous meetings with administrators have so far been unproductive, according to Kristian Kim, a UC Berkeley senior and member of the SLC. The continued protests are a result of the campus “not taking workers’ concerns seriously,” Kim said.

The group has protested several times before: In December, protesters occupied California Hall, advocating campus insourcing the conversion from contract employment to UC employment. Twenty-two protesters were arrested.

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that the campus is open to more discussions about worker issues, noting that it is “critical that individuals have accurate information about the university’s actions.”

Protesters included regular UC employees, UC employees hired for limited appointments and contract workers.

The campus outsources labor when it requires specialized skills or equipment, surge staffing, cyclical work or to meet specific regulatory requirements.

Gilmore was critical of the suggestion that all workers should be insourced.

“Insourcing all our workers would not be prudent, or legal. However, when appropriate, it is something we consider and explore,” Gilmore said in an email.

Lynette Aidoo, a campus employee for 15 years, said her working schedule abruptly changed last year. With four children, Aidoo said the change makes coordinating their school schedules more difficult. In addition, she was recently reassigned a less desirable shift in the dishroom.

At the protest, several workers spoke of a shift in treatment in recent years. Alfonso Hernandez, a 31-year campus employee, said he is now expected to cover other employees’ responsibilities, in addition to his own, if they are sick.

Over the years, the work environment has also become more stressful and less friendly, Hernandez alleged.

“You don’t have the socializing and associating with managers and supervisors (that you used to),” Hernandez said. “There’s no more respect for the worker — you’re just told what to do.”

Roger Burnett, who has worked as a limited-term employee for about one year, understood that he would become eligible for career employment after working 1,000 hours for the university, which is its policy. He said, however, that his hours stopped being counted after his first 500 hours, when he was reassigned to a “permanent substitute” position.

Troubled by his employment status, Burnett said he feels like he could be let go at any time.

“I can’t do anything,” he said. “I can’t make a big move … because I don’t know if I’m going to have a job.”

Philip Cerles covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected].