Student and community activists organized a ”speak-out” for workers Thursday evening, raising their concerns regarding the campus administration’s use of subcontracted workers.
Organized by the campus Student Labor Committee, a group aiming to show solidarity with workers in UC Berkeley, the speak-out was held at the campus’s Multicultural Community Center with more than 100 students and community members attending.
Four subcontracted workers shared their experiences at the event, describing the difficulties they faced as subcontracted workers and advocating the administration to repeal this practice in favor of insourcing labor.
“We are feeling like second-class workers,” said Antonio Ruiz, a parking attendant who has worked since 1994, at the event. “We’re not gonna give up until we’re treated the same.”
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said it is the obligation of the UC Office of the President to affect the changes to employment practices demanded by the activists. He added that Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, toward whom the demands and later protests were directed, is not a party to the employment negotiations.
The university’s contract with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees stipulates that subcontracted employees cannot be hired solely to save money on wages or benefits that would have been paid to UC employees. The document specifies various circumstances under which subcontracted workers can be used, including instances in which a special service or expertise is better provided by an outside contractor, and for financial necessity.
The Student Labor Committee alleged that subcontractors are paid 53 percent less for some jobs than workers directly employed by the campus.
Kristian Kim, a UC Berkeley senior and member of the Student Labor Committee, said the consequential undermining of the leverage of UC career workers is the most powerful incentive for the administration to hire subcontracted workers.
“Even if career workers go on strike to advance their demands, subcontractors still have to work,” she said.
After the speak-out, numerous students and workers marched to Dirks’ residence, interrupting an event at Doe Memorial Library en route to Dirks’ house. The activists chanted, “Insource staff,” and “If workers’ rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up and fight back,” and held banners that read “#Justice4UCWorkers.”
The protest concluded when two UCPD officers arrived and ordered protesters to move away from the chancellor’s house.
UCPD Captain Alex Yao said the purpose of their intervention was to make sure that demonstrators are in compliance with the laws of campus community. He also confirmed that no arrests were made in relation to the event.
In response to the protest in front of the chancellor’s residence, Mogulof said that even though the university continues to support freedom of expression, the protesters’ methodology was questionable.
“(The protesters’ actions) pose a question to the campus community,” he said. “What sort of behavior is it willing to condone?”