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IWW Curbside Recyclers Negotiate New Contract, Win Wage Increases

Union and Ecology Center Sign Contract The "non-profit" Ecology Center, under contract with the City of Berkeley, runs the Curbside recycling pickup program in that city. We, the IWW, are the representatives of these workers. The economic (wages and benefits) portion of this contract expired on Jan. 1 and we have been in negotiations for the last several months (up until today operating on a contract extension).

Basically, the position of the Ecology Center (EC) is that because the City of Berkeley is having a budget crisis (as are almost all other cities), that they could not afford a decent raise and, in fact, had to reduce the level of health benefits. They also made the claim that since they are a non-profit that we should regard them differently. Neither the workers nor the Union was buying this. This is especially so because they refused to give us the figures for how much it costs to run Curbside and, therefore, how much of the contract with the city they are creaming off of the top to finance other EC operations and salaries.

Their offer ended up as being a 3% wage increase plus a payment of $2,000 per year into each worker's 401(k) plan. In addition, family members of the workers would be covered by the health plan before they have been up until now. This was an improvement over their original offer which did not include the $2,000 payment but did include a demand for a significantly worse health care package.

The main remaining difference was over the wage increase. Three percent meant an increase of between 57 and 80 cents per hour, depending on the pay scale of the individual. We were demanding a flat $2.00 raise and all were determined that we did not want a percentage increase. We had threatened a strike starting on Monday, Jan. 19 if our demand was not met.

After some discussion, the workers decided on an offer of $1.00 across-the-board and if this was rejected then we'd go on strike starting on Tuesday, Jan. 20 at which time the demand was going back up to two dollars.

A particularly low point in the whole process was reached when the EC management organized a meeting with the crew behind the backs of both the shop steward and the Union representatives. When we met with the EC again our position was put to them in no uncertain terms. Such an action is completely outside the normal bounds, even in private industry. What it does is open up the door to the position that the Union is some sort of unwanted, unnecessary "third party" and that it would be much better if the workers and management just negotiated directly between each other. This is the standard line of any company that wants to prevent or bust unionization of their workers.

This action has to be seen in light of the demand of the EC in the previous negotiations that they have the right to force our members to cross a picket line - again something that is classic union busting. The EC CEO made a big point of the fact that the EC is a non-profit, as if that somehow makes them different. However, their actions prove the opposite. We let them know in no uncertain terms that this was completely unacceptable and that if anything like this ever happens again the Union as a whole would be picketing all the operations of the Ecology Center.

In the end, faced with a possible strike, the EC backed down and agreed to the $1.00 raise across the board, along with the other improvements. This is still a long way away from what is really needed, and the EC continues with the same game that any employer plays - that "the money isn't there" - while refusing to document this. Nevertheless, IWW members should be proud that ours is not a union that accepts management's word for what is "affordable" and what isn't. While this raise (along with the 401k improvement) is not as much as the workers deserve, I do think it's probably more than lots of other unions contracts are winning nowadays. This is because we start from the position of the workers' needs, not those of the bosses.

As for the issue of the cities going bust - workers in general are going to have to take this up, or else suffer the consequences. The San Francisco Bay chapter of the IWW is initiating a campaign for the federal bailout money to be used to pay for the deficits of the states, counties and cities of the country. These contract negotiations show the necessity of this for all workers.