Public Comment

Commentary: A No-Sweat Method To Make Berkeley Sweat-Free

By Igor Tregub
Tuesday June 27, 2006

The City of Berkeley spends $89,000 annually to purchase goods that facilitate an efficient infrastructure and continued service. Police uniforms, computers for city offices, and accounting supplies are generally ordered from private vendors, who contract companies from across the world to manufacture the starting materials. 

It may come as a shock that the city, with its lasting and proud history of leadership in social justice issues, has no mechanism in place to trace the origins of these starting materials. Little known to any of us is the possibility that some of these origins may be rooted in an onerous legacy of sweatshops, inhumane labor practices, and wages as low as 13 cents per hour. 

This dereliction, however, has the potential for redress on June 27. On this evening, the City Council will have the power to pass a Sweat-Free Ordinance. This provision will ensure for years to come that the purchasing department employs our taxpayer money in a clean and just fashion.  

Subcontractors and contractors that honor the basic labor rights of a minimum wage, the ability to unionize, and the freedom from harassment and abuse will be rewarded through bid offers. Those that fall short of the necessary regulations will receive ample time to reform their practices; if, however, their efforts still remain inadequate, Berkeley will take its business elsewhere. 

It is of paramount importance to remember that such an ordinance without a proper level of funding amounts to nothing more than a toothless bill. This is why a broad coalition of members on the Berkeley Labor and Peace and Justice Commissions as well as over 30 labor, faith-based, student, and community groups in Berkeley recommend that this resolution receive the full amount of a $60,000 request. 

A portion of this amount would be earmarked for an internal monitor, who would conduct much-needed research into the genesis and lifetime of goods and services that eventually find their way into our municipality. Basic data, such as the country of production, normal working hours per day, and overtime policy, will be entered. 

The remainder would be allocated toward a consortium spanning the East Bay, created with the express purpose of sharing information, expediting research, and saving cities time and money. This collaboration will draw on the strength of enforcement in locales such as San Francisco, which recently passed its own sweat-free ordinance, and information stored in the collective annals of the Bay Area. 

The Sweat-Free Ordinance is inseparable in letter or spirit from the monetary request, as the latter will be the only method to promulgate the former. We urge you to contact your council member and state your support for this ordinance. Let’s enjoy the fruits of labor in a just and equitable way! 


Igor Tregub is member of the  

Commission on Labor.