Members of AFSCME Local 3299 who in live in Richmond, CA. and work for the University of California in Berkeley have an urgent message for their neighbors: “When the university plans a major expansion in our city, we need to get all its promises in writing!’
AFSCME activists base that sound trade union advice on their most recent contract bargaining –and on-going labor relations battles–with the UC system. In 2013-14, it took more than a year of difficult negotiations, plus statewide strike activity, to win the collective bargaining agreement that currently covers 8,300 UC service workers.
Several hundred Richmond residents are employed in this bargaining unit. According to AFSCME, their labor has been so undervalued in the past that some of the union’s Black and Latino members at UC could even qualify for public assistance
Now, AFSCME rank-and-filers are campaigning, with student and community allies, for a different kind of “CBA.” At meetings on campus, in local churches, and other venues, they are pressuring the university to sign a “community benefits agreement” that would apply to the “Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay” (BGC) that UC-plans to build in partnership with private developers and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories (LBNL).
“McJobs” or Better Jobs?
AFSCME’s campaign partners in the East Bay include the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), and the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA). Like its counterparts in economic development fights across the country, the coalition lobbying UC has a long list of demands.
These goals were endorsed by the Richmond City Council, on paper at least, in late February. By a 5 to 1 vote, city councilors, including new mayor Tom Butt, urged “UCB to reach a legally-binding agreement with community stakeholders” that would commit the BGC to local hiring, job training, and “living wage” standards; use of unionized construction labor; respect for collective bargaining rights of campus workers; use of local businesses as vendors; and creation of an “anti-displacement fund to subsidize the development of affordable housing units and protect low income tenants” from gentrification of adjoining neighborhoods.
Of particular concern to AFSCME members is the threat of contracting out when their bargaining unit work is being done in Richmond, rather than Berkeley. “UC likes to staff with temporary contract workers,” says Luster Howard, a Richmond resident and Local 3299 executive board member who earns $60,000 a year as a driver for LBNL. “I have friends and family who need job opportunities. We already have plenty of ‘McJobs” in Richmond. We need better ones.”
A Private Development Catalyst
If UCB Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ big plans for Richmond attract sufficient private capital and unfold on schedule, the university could become the city’s biggest employer within a decade, overtaking Kaiser Permanente and Chevron Corp. The new educational and research complex Dirks wants to create would be UCB’s biggest expansion in 147 years, adding 40 percent to its existing campus infrastructure.
According to Dirks, the BGC will function as an “international hub where some of the world’s leading universities and high-tech companies will work side-by-side in a campus setting…advancing knowledge in bioscience, health, energy development, and data studies”—all funded by hundreds of millions worth of private investment. Dirks and other BGC boosters have likened the project to the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond–a huge, if temporary, job creator for women and African-Americans during World War II. They foresee it becoming a “catalyst for developing the city’s shoreline into a vibrant mixture of high-intensity light industrial, commercial, and residential uses.”
Clearing the way for all this is what UCB Community Relations Director Ruben Lizardo calls a “transparent and inclusive community advisory process.” Last fall, the university appointed a twenty-member “working group” that holds monthly meetings in Richmond, open to the public, where proposals related to employment, procurement, workforce training, and education are discussed. The city of Richmond, local business, two labor councils, faith-based and community organizations (including CCISCO) are all represented on the working group. According to Lizardo, its “submission of actionable recommendations to UCB and LBNL” is due by the end of this year. How much action will be taken on which recommendations remains to be seen.
Housing For Who?
One related question mark is the BGC’s future impact on the local housing market. Will it soon be flooded with upscale, white-collar young people fleeing gentrification in San Francisco and Oakland, but contributing to it in Richmond, as transformed by UC? As BGC development manager Terezia Nemeth told The SF Business Times last week, one of the key “benefits of the Richmond location is that there is housing available. That is probably the most reasonably priced housing in the Bay Area at this point.”
How long rents and housing prices will remain that way in a low-income, majority minority city is a serious local concern. Lizardo promises that his BGC working group will soon be “evaluating strategies to mitigate displacement of local residents.” To aid its deliberations and educate the broader community about available policy options, the Berkeley-based Haas Institute has produced a glossy 50-page study entitled “Anchor Richmond.” It describes the potential costs and benefits of UC expansion in a place with “a concentration of low-wage jobs, an education system unable to prepare students to access opportunity, a heavy environmental health burden, and housing costs that outpace income.”
Co-sponsored by ACCE and CCISCO, this well-researched report makes the case for a binding community benefits agreement that goes well beyond the warm and fuzzy “joint statement of commitment” signed by Dirks last year. The report authors—Eli Moore, Nadia Barhoum, and Alexis Alvarez Franco—urge UC to follow the example of other public or private development projects where the potential for displacement was recognized and affordable housing incorporated into the overall construction plan or expanded off-site through linkage fees.
(For details, see this)
It’s not clear which approach BGC planners favor, if any. At a recent Richmond “housing summit” sponsored by the Haas Institute, City Manager Bill Lindsay, a member of the BGC working group, reported that top UC officials had told him: “We don’t do housing—we rely on local policies to complement what goes on, on campus.” Tom Butt, Richmond’s new mayor, predicts that the “displacement fund,” backed by the city council in February, will be a non-starter with the university.
According to Butt, “there are a lot creative ways UC and Richmond can collaborate to address affordable housing, but a cash transfer is probably not going to be one of them.” In a recent exchange with ACCE, he chided the organization for failing to understand “that UC Berkeley is not Chevron. It is a cash-strapped public agency with limited resources. If UC Berkeley funds housing in Richmond, it has to come from somewhere….[I]t would probably come from raising student fees. “
Local 3299 president Kathryn Lybarger, a union reformer recently chosen to lead the California AFL-CIO, strongly disagrees with Butt. “UC is a really big institution, with the ability to do the right thing for Richmond,” she told a campus meeting in February. “They’re not strapped for cash.”
Raise Up Richmond!
Recent student protests, targeting UC’s Board of Regents, have stressed both opposition to tuition hikes and support for the Richmond community benefits campaign. Several dozen students personally jousted with UC President Janet Napolitano, before being evicted from a Regents meeting in San Francisco last month. Their flyer publicizing the action accused UC of trying to make “profits on the backs of low-income people of color.” Some stood on chairs, stripped off their T-shirts, threw fake money, and chanted, “Raise up Richmond, not tuition!”
At an informational meeting, on campus, before that protest, members of the UCB Student Labor Committee got a moving pep talk from Maricruz Manzanarez. Orphaned as a child, she emigrated from Mexico and was an undocumented worker for many years. She’s now a Richmond home owner and mother of three who became active in Local 3299 after getting a custodial job at UCB.
“I came up from nothing to make a life in this country that would be better for my kids,” Manzanarez told her student allies, warning that it will take much more pressure on UC to get a community benefits deal that’s legally enforceable.
“ We have to make it happen,” she said. “They’re not going to do it out of good will. Students, community, and the workers–we need to make them do it.”
Steve Early is a Richmond resident and member of the city’s Progressive Alliance. He is the author, most recently of Save Our Unions, from Monthly Review Press, and is currently working on a book about progressive policy initiatives in Richmond. He can be reached at Lsupport@aol.com