Union calls for speaker’s boycott, urging improved treatment of subcontracted workers

Michael Wan/File
On Aug. 31, 2015, several dozen students, workers and community members marched to various locations on the UC Berkeley campus and in the city of Berkeley, delivering petitions calling for the insourcing of all subcontracted employees on campus.

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A UC labor union is calling for a speaker’s boycott at UC Berkeley for the duration of the spring semester, urging the campus to improve its treatment of subcontracted workers.

In a press release published Thursday, the labor union, AFSCME Local 3299, said it wants UC Berkeley to hire the nearly 100 subcontracted campus workers employed by Performance First, ABM and LAZ Parking as direct employees.

UC Berkeley employs some individuals directly, or in-house, while others who do temporary or seasonal work are often subcontracted and receive reduced pay and fewer benefits than directly employed workers.

Todd Stenhouse, a spokesperson for AFSCME Local 3299, said the work completed by subcontracted workers is neither seasonal nor temporary and often includes 80-hour work weeks and no overtime compensation.

“These contractors exploit workers, primarily immigrants and workers of color for profit,” Stenhouse said. “A first-class university should not treat its workers like second-class citizens.”

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ boycott has the potential to affect planned campus talks, such as those hosted by Cal Performances. It could also affect the Clinton Global Initiative University conference in April, at which Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton are scheduled to speak.

Stenhouse said Bill Clinton has honored speaker’s boycotts in the past — cancelling a talk at UCLA in 2008 and is hopeful he will do so again. According to an AFSCME press release, Hillary Clinton met with representatives of AFSCME Local 3299 in June to discuss the university’s subcontracting practices.

Moreover, Angela Davis, a political activist and author, has agreed to honor the speaker’s boycott, Stenhouse noted.

According to the AFSCME press release, many subcontracted workers seek direct employment at UC Berkeley for jobs in which they would do virtually the same work they perform as subcontracted workers. Their requests are often denied.

One of the campus’s contracting companies, Performance First Building Services, is currently under investigation by U.S. Department of Labor for allegedly underpaying its workers and withholding overtime pay.

According to the AFSCME press release, the union has contacted individuals scheduled to speak on campus this semester, as well as state and federal elected officials, asking them to honor the boycott.

“We are asking them to support the middle-class aspirations of nearly 100 workers that have endured years of exploitation and second class treatment at the public university they serve,” said AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger in the press release.

AFSCME is currently focusing the boycott on UC Berkeley, but Stenhouse said the subcontracting issue is a systemic problem on many UC campuses.

Campus spokesperson Roqua Montez said UC Berkeley is “looking into the situation and working toward a resolution.”

Contact Maya Eliahou at [email protected].