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Long-time BUSD union under attack

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Tuesday May 14, 2002

Local 1, the Martinez-based union that has represented employees of the Berkeley Unified School District for years, is on the ropes. 

Last week, maintenance workers, custodians, storekeepers, bus drivers and food service employees, who make up the Local 1 “operations unit,” voted 70-42 to replace Local 1 with Local 39, an AFL-CIO affiliate with offices in San Francisco. 

In the next two weeks, employees in the paraprofessional and clerical units will decide whether to drop Local 1 in favor of the Council of Classified Employees, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers. 


Local 39 proponents argue that Local 1 is not providing adequate service to union members – failing to return calls and file grievances in a timely manner. CCE activists make similar claims. 

“I’m real confident,” said Frank Oppedisano, a CCE organizer, arguing that the Local 39 victory has provided his union with momentum. “I think people realize, now, that it’s time for a change.” 

But Charles Egbert, general manager for Local 1, said he believes the paraprofessional and clerical units will rebuff a union with ties to the American Federation of Teachers. 

“We think that people will reject the idea that teachers can represent them fairly,” he said, arguing that teachers often compete with other employees for a piece of the district pie and file complaints against classified staff. 

Oppedisano said the American Federation of Teachers provides CCE with support services. But he said the union is largely independent of its parent organization. 

“It’s not a teacher’s union,” he said of CCE. “We represent classified employees.” 

Walter Mitchell, a Berkeley High School instructional aide who favors CCE, said independence is a campaign ploy, not a legitimate issue. 

“They got creamed by Local 39 and they’re trying to hold onto what little they’ve got,” Mitchell said. 

Stephanie Allan, business representative for Local 39, said the service issue is what made the difference in last week’s vote to replace Local 1. 

“If Local 1 had been doing its job, this never would have happened,” she said. “People don’t make this kind of change unless they are highly motivated.” 

But Egbert said Local 1 has provided solid service. He said business representatives return calls within one day 85 to 90 percent of the time. 

Pat Robertson, a district storekeeper and president of the operations unit, said local union officials provide much of the day-to-day support for members anyhow. Robertson said he has worked tirelessly to provide that support. 

“People were represented well,” he said, dismissing claims that the service issue played a role in the election results. 

Robertson said the crucial factor was Local 39’s promotion of its training program for union members. 

“It’s a difference,” Robertson acknowledged, noting that a long-discussed Local 1 apprenticeship program never got off the ground. 

Samuel Scott, a general maintenance worker who voted for Local 39, said training was a key issue for his colleagues. But service, he added, also played an important role. 

“I believe now we’ll get some representation and the training that we deserve and need to get our department working right,” Scott said. 

Robertson said he was saddened by Local 1’s defeat and troubled by the AFL-CIO’s efforts to “raid” existing unions. He said Local 39 and CCE should focus on organizing the unorganized instead. 

“Our objective is to provide service for classified employees,” Oppedisano replied. “If they’re not getting the service they need and they want to look at other options, that’s their right.”