Union Calls on Bill Clinton to Cancel Speech at UC Berkeley

Union says Berkeley exploiting contract workers (Updated)

UC Berkeley
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A labor union is calling on Bill and Chelsea Clinton to cancel their appearance at an upcoming conference at the University of California Berkeley unless the school takes measures to improve its treatment of contract workers.

AFSCME Local 3299, the University of California’s largest employee union, announced on Thursday that it is calling for a "speakers boycott" of the Berkeley campus until the school agrees to hire around 100 subcontracted campus janitors and parking attendants as direct employees.

According to the AFSCME 3299, these workers are being exploited by subcontracting companies and are underpaid, despite the fact that many have worked at the university for years and do the same jobs as direct employees.

The Clinton Global Initiative University, a project of CGI aimed at college students, is scheduled to hold its ninth annual meeting at Berkeley on April 1. Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton are slated to host the event.

AFSCME reached out to the Clinton Global Initiative about the speakers boycott on Thursday morning, but has yet to hear back, according to a union spokesperson.

President Clinton’s office and the Clinton Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.

The union boycott could pose political challenges for Hillary Clinton, who met with AFSCME 3299 and the UC Berkeley contract workers just last summer.

The presidential candidate was even photographed with Antonio Ruiz, a subcontracted worker who has become the face of AFSCME 3299’s fight against subcontracting. Ruiz has reportedly worked as a parking attendant at UC Berkeley for two decades, but has never been directly employed by the university.

"Secretary Clinton met with not only our leadership but also several of the contract workers who are being impacted last summer," said Todd Stenhouse, a spokesperson for AFSCME 3299. "We think this is an important issue of basic fairness, basic dignity for a group of 100 workers that has been exploited for years."

Stenhouse noted that Bill Clinton honored its last speakers boycott in 2007 and said the union was "certainly hopeful" that Clinton would do so again.

According to AFSCME 3299, many of the subcontracted workers receive significantly lower pay and benefits compared to direct employees—even though some of the contract workers have been at UC Berkeley for years.

"We’re not talking about temporary or seasonal workers," said Stenhouse. "We’re talking about folks who in some cases have been working at UC for 20 years, doing the same jobs as directly employed UC employees for a fraction of the pay because UC contracts with these private firms."

One of these contract firms, Performance First, is currently being investigated by the Department of Labor for claims that it underpaid workers and denied overtime pay, the Los Angeles Times reported in October.

The University of California Berkeley did not respond to request for comment by publication time.

UPDATE 11:41 A.M.: This post has been updated to clarify that AFSCME Local 3299 is not calling for the cancellation of the Clinton Global Initiative University conference, as an earlier version of the post suggested, but specifically for Bill and Chelsea Clinton to honor the union's call for a "speakers boycott."