BY Mario Vasquez
Twenty-two student protesters were arrested on December 3 after staging a two-hour occupation of the central administration offices at the University of California, Berkeley.
The protesters, 50 members of a campus-based organization called the Student Labor Committee, stormed California Hall, where school head Chancellor Nicholas Dirks is headquartered, and sat down in the office lobby demanding living wages and benefits for workers employed by private contractors on campus.
The practice of outsourcing, mostly with workers from communities of colors in the Bay Area, is detrimental both to those workers and campus workers directly hired by the university, according to campaign advocates. AFSCME Local 3299, the system’s largest employee union, said in August that UC management currently holds contracts with “at least 45 private contractors employing thousands of subcontractors who perform the same work as career UC employees—such as custodians, security officers, parking attendants, and food service workers.” Researchers at UC Berkeley’s Labor Center have examined the problems of subcontracted labor at length in recent years, concluding that outsourcing arrangements drag wages down to levels that make subcontracted workers twice as likely to enroll in public assistance programs.
The public pressure built up over both the Fight for 15 and the campaign for SB 376 coincided with UC President Janet Napolitano’s directives for minimum wage increases that have brought the current wage to $13 as of this October, moving to $15 by 2017. A $13 minimum wage, however, puts subcontracted UC workers at the same level as the median wage for subcontracted workers across the state, the UC Berkeley’s Labor Center calculates. Already in the expensive Bay Area, Berkeley contractors are a part of the nation’s working poor.
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