Target: Nicholas B. Dirks, Chancellor of UC Berkeley
Goal: Ensure that hired contractors guarantee ethical and legal work standards.
A company that allegedly has been severely underpaying its workers has been contracted by the University of California at Berkeley. Multiple workers hired under Performance First, which has provided cleaning services to the university’s athletic facilities since 2008, claim they’ve been working up to 90-hour weeks without overtime pay.
Performance First has been getting away with this illegal practice by issuing separate checks and telling workers to continue cleaning the facilities after their shift has ended. The University of California system should not be condoning and profiting this type of labor.
The UC system is the third largest employer in the state. They pay their contract employees half of what they pay their direct employees for equivalent work. This is a huge disservice to the thousands of contract employees who provide essential services to the campuses. There’s also a disparity between what the UCs pay their contractors and what the contractors pay the workers. Although UC Berkeley pays Performance First $20.97 an hour per janitor, the workers claim they’ve never made more than $10 an hour.
Juliana Robles has worked for Performance First since 2008. She claims she regularly worked 80-hour weeks and a typical workday would go from 6 am-9pm. The company issued her separate checks to make it seem like she wasn’t working over 40 hours a week, which is the legal amount someone can work before the employer must pay them 1.5 times their wage.
Robles was also asked to clean at the end of her shifts for unpaid hours and claims workers often didn’t receive lunch breaks. When she finally attended a unionized meeting about her work conditions, Performance First fired her. Since then, her and her children have been evicted from their Oakland apartment.
UC Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore told the Los Angeles Times that the investigation was not a matter that involved the school. However, since UC Berkeley hires the contractors, the institution should ensure they’re not funding an unethical company. Urge UC Berkeley to stop contracting Performance First until they guarantee their employees proper compensation.
Dear Chancellor Dirks,
UC Berkeley is an institution that strives for progressive idealism while hiring a company that underpays its employees. The workers hired under Performance First are dedicated workers who are not being compensated for their efforts. While your students enjoy Golden Bears football games, the custodians work morning through night, ensuring the stadium remains clean. They are an integral part of your campus and should be treated with equal respect.
Although I understand your need for budgeting, it’s problematic to contract out service work to the lowest bidder. Performance First takes over half the share of what you pay them for the work their employees are doing. These workers are trying to provide for their families by working overtime and should be compensated accordingly.
Your spokeswoman claimed that whatever the workers get paid is between the worker and contract company, but this in an excuse for Berkeley to turn a blind eye and remove itself from the injustice. As the hiring party, you have the power to influence the contract company to pay fair wages and abide by overtime regulations. Please only continue to work with Performance First if they abide by fair work standards and compensate employees for the overtime they worked.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Roman Fuchs