Advocates for COVID safety enforcement shouldn’t be getting fired, not when UC needs them more than ever. Yet, UC Merced terminated Senior Custodian Bertha Perez for being a fierce leader and advocate for students and her coworkers – including leading the fight for safer practices during the pandemic.
She’s led all of the UC Merced strike lines and was essential to our bargaining team’s contract victory. Her strong leadership skills landed her a front page column in the Los Angeles Times.
“I will always stand on the side of justice. I know that what I did was the right thing to do. I knew it had to be said and I said it, but to get fired for it? That’s illegal,” Bertha says.
From the beginning of the pandemic, Bertha spoke up when UC Merced management failed to follow safety guidelines such as:
- Providing proper PPE and training for custodians on how to sanitize surfaces of potentially live virus with bleach. In the middle of the pandemic, UC Merced instructed custodians to replace their regular cleaning fluid with bleach, but declined to provide the workers with appropriate PPE or train them on how to use bleach safely when cleaning rooms and surfaces that may have been contaminated with the coronavirus. Bertha pushed back, requesting that workers be given PPE and training so they could learn how to work safely under these circumstances.
- Wearing a mask. At first, UC Merced did not issue masks to workers and when they did, each worker received only one, to be reused. Bertha spoke up for safer practices, repeatedly asking that UC make new and more protective masks readily available to custodians.
- Enforcing social distancing. Bertha held supervisors accountable for creating a lax culture around workplace safety, allowing workers to congregate indoors – for example by holding a raffle in the breakroom – and claiming that they somehow were not able to require social distancing. Bertha asked managers – including the interim Chancellor of the Campus himself – to ensure that everyone on campus follows social distancing. Days later, she was fired.
Bertha also spoke up to demand that UC Merced provide trainings and guidelines in Spanish, since many Campus custodians are Spanish speakers. UCM finally started making more Spanish translations available.
Our Union will not rest until Bertha is reinstated and workers are able to speak up for safety at work. “Speaking up for health and safety during a global pandemic is how we protect our students, our families, one another, and the community we’re a part of. And by firing someone who speaks up for that shows UC’s true colors and where their values lie. This has got to change, right now,” Bertha said.
Demand UC Merced #BringBackBertha by taking action, click here to find out how.