Berkeley City Council hears of climate progress, labor frustration

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Vanessa Lim/Senior Staff
In the Berkeley City Council meeting, city employee unions alleged labor contract violations, and council members discussed sustainability updates.

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The Berkeley City Council heard updates on climate goals in a regular meeting Tuesday bracketed by a large showing from city labor unions alleging the city had not honored labor contracts.

During initial public comment, members of the city employee unions alleged that the city has violated labor contracts and has not addressed employee demands for COVID-19 workplace safety.

“We are not getting paid the salaries and benefits that are clearly laid out in our contract,” said Marna Schwartz, a city employee in the Office of Energy and Sustainable Development and member of Service Employees International Union Local 1021. “It’s heartbreaking; it makes me cry.”

Other union members during public comment periods echoed Schwartz’s comments, alleging that the city had not implemented negotiated salary increases and had canceled meetings with employee representatives.

Member demands also included that the city improves workplace COVID-19 safety measures and assess hazard pay for workers in encampments of unhoused residents.

“I share the concerns that you have expressed and want to reiterate my commitment to work with the city manager and the city council,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín during the meeting. “We value deeply your service to the city of Berkeley.”

The council’s official agenda for the evening session centered around two climate items: a budget referral for fast-charging stations and an emissions inventory report.

The budget referral, authored by City Councilmember Kate Harrison, would fund a partnership between the utility East Bay Community Energy, or EBCE, and the city of Berkeley to establish three electric vehicle fast-charging stations in municipal parking lots, according to the meeting agenda.

Ammon Reagan, the city’s sustainability coordinator, presented the greenhouse gas emissions report. Data from 2019 showed emissions decreased by 4% between 2018 and 2019. Transportation was responsible for the majority of the city’s emissions in 2019, with buildings accounting for most of the remaining emissions.

A decrease of 23% in citywide electricity emissions occurred in 2019 with the establishment of EBCE, according to sustainability coordinator Ammon Reagan, who added that this drop is “seen as a one-time event.”

In the final public comment, union members, including Reagan, again emphasized that the city meets demands and provides retroactive pay for missed payments.

At the end of the meeting, Arreguín announced that the City Council would be meeting with the employee union representatives.

“I just wanted to announce that hopefully, we’ll be meeting in closed session soon to get more information about this and to have a discussion with the city manager,” Arreguín said.

Contact Alexander Wohl at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @dc_arwohl.