University of California service workers from all nine campuses plan to converge at UC Berkeley today (Friday) to protest stalled union contract negotiations with the university.
According to workers, the 4 p.m. protest will start at Sproul Plaza, then move towards Telegraph Avenue. Several workers said they plan to get arrested for civil disobedience.
Workers said they want to highlight UC’s mistreatment of its low-wage employees and hope to garner both public and student support for their new contract demands, which include higher pay and more opportunities for job promotion.
About 7,000 UC service workers system-wide, who do everything from clean dorm rooms to cook the meals at dining halls, have been without a contract since their old one expired on June 30. They are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union (AFSCME) local 3299.
“We know that the union has gone to the table and bargained for us,” said Gilbert Nicholas, a senior cook at the UC Berkeley dining halls. “We also know that there has been no new offer [from the university]. The only thing for us to do is to demonstrate that there is a united front.”
The university did not return calls concerning the protest.
The protest comes a month after the release of a report called “Berkeley’s Betrayal,” authored by several UC Berkeley sociology graduate students and Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the best-seller, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.
In the report, the authors detail how the university “betrays” its low wage workers by paying substandard wages, overworking them, and failing to train them properly. It also says there is a general lack of respect from students, administration and faculty for the work they do.
According to Jose Martinez, an organizer with Local 3299, workers hope the protest is a way to unite with the Berkeley community, which has placed its own demands on the university. Residents and the city of Berkeley are currently struggling over how much the university should pay for the city services it uses.
If contract negotiations continue to stall, Martinez said the union will use whatever means they have at their disposal to fight for the workers’ proposals.
“The idea of a strike is not out of the question,” said Martinez. “It’s not that we’ve decided, but we consider that an option that all workers have when their backs are against the wall.”
Workers said they are also ready to do whatever it takes to get better jobs.
“I think the bulk of us believe that if the union comes to us and says we have done all we can do, that we would have no trouble passing a strike vote at all,” said Nicholas.