California Public Employment Relations Board issues complaints against university, alleging unfair labor practices

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The California Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, issued its second complaint this year against the university Feb. 12, alleging unfair labor practices.

The charges — filed by the American Federation State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 union — allege that the university violated its collective bargaining agreement with the union, which represents UC workers.

The university allegedly entered into or extended about five contracts with private companies without properly notifying the union, as it is legally required to, according to Todd Stenhouse, AFSCME Local 3299 spokesperson. These private firms source workers for everything from janitorial work and parking security to patient transport, and according to Stenhouse, this work is often equivalent to work done by UC employees.

“What is at issue here is the university’s continued reliance on low-wage private firms to do the work normally done by directly employed UC workers,” Stenhouse said. “This is not new.”

PERB also issued a complaint earlier this year alleging that the university unlawfully retaliated against about 20 workers — many of whom are Chinese immigrants — employed by UC San Francisco contractor Impec Group.

After Impec Group allegedly cut the workers’ wages, workers sought direct employment with the university. The workers organized, sending delegates to speak at a UC Board of Regents meeting and setting up meetings with UCSF management, as well as picketing and distributing leaflets at various events, according to the complaint issued by PERB on Jan. 15.

The university responded to these actions, the charges allege, by refusing to hire some workers and subsequently terminating the employment of 11 individuals listed in the complaint.

The university, however, denies the claims. UC spokesperson Kate Moser said the university did not violate the collective bargaining agreement and did not retaliate against the workers employed at the independent company contracted by UCSF.

“There was no retaliation,” Moser said in an email. “We were very receptive to the interests of the contractor’s employees and hired almost half of those employed by Impec at UCSF.”

Two of the companies the university entered or renewed contracts with — Performance First and ABM — have been subject to legal scrutiny in the past.

Performance First, an independent custodial contractor of UC Berkeley employed to clean the campus’s athletic facilities, is under federal investigation for allegations of wage theft and payroll fraud, such as skirting rules for overtime pay.

When PERB issues a complaint, it triggers a lengthy process, Stenhouse said. Usually, the university would have to formally respond in writing, which it has already done for the first complaint, he added.

Stenhouse said the university cited potential language barriers as one of the reasons it did not directly hire some Chinese immigrant workers listed in the complaint.

“At a supposedly preeminent public university system … workers adversely impacted are immigrants and people of color,” Stenhouse said. “What kind of message does that send to the campus community?”

Moser said, however, that the university employs sound rationale for working with individual contractors.

“(There is) one thing I want to make clear,” Moser said. “This is not the same thing as the PERB making a decision. … This is a complaint being made, not a decision being issued by the board.”

Performance First and ABM could not be immediately reached for comment.

Suhauna Hussain is the university news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @suhaunah.