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Recycle workers happy with new contract

By Kenyatte Davis Special to the Daily Planet
Wednesday June 13, 2001

Berkeley recyclers represented by the Industrial Workers of the World signed their first union contract with Community Conservation Centers last week after a relatively short bargaining process. 

The new contract raised wages by more than 20 percent, expanding health coverage to employees’ families and, according to IWW organizer and negotiator Steve Toff, providing workers with a real voice on their jobs.  

“With the new contracts (the CCC workers) can challenge the management through an expedient grievance procedure,” Toff said. “There is a respect clause in the contract and there will be a safety committee with an equal number of workers and management.” 

For one month after they were requested to do so, the CCC management refused to recognize the IWW as a legal bargaining agent. That all changed when a National Labor Relations Board-sponsored election was administered on Feb. 7. The election resulted in a 16-0 vote in favor of allowing the IWW to represent the CCC employees. 

Toff said, “Because it was such a strong vote in our favor, it became clear to the management that they would have to negotiate with us. The employees were overwhelmingly in our favor. One day they all stayed late and came to the negotiations to show that they were in support of what we were doing.” 

Negotiations lasted only three months, which, according to Toff, is an extremely short period of time.  

“The first contract is typically the hardest to settle,” he said. “It is more difficult because you’re starting from scratch, and there are always a lot of kinks to work out.” 

The new contract, which was accepted by the workers in a unanimous vote, will change the CCC workplace by providing paid holidays, new vision and dental plans, a severance package and a $100 stipend for workers to purchase boots along with the pay increase and family health plan. 

“We feel good,” said union member Rick Garcia. “Everyone is happy about the new contracts. We’re happy about the wages and the way that we are treated is changing. The most important change is the health coverage for our families; now we can take our kids to the hospital and not have to worry about a huge bill coming later.” 

With the signing of the contract the CCC workers became the second Berkeley recycling group to be represented by the IWW. They join the Berkeley Ecology Center curbside recyclers who have been represented by the IWW since 1989.