Berkeley recyclers organize IWW - Steve Ongerth & Bruce Valde

An article by Steve Ongerth & Bruce Valde about an IWW campaign at Community Conservation Centers in Berkeley, California. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001).

Recyclers at Community Conservation Centers in Berkeley, California, have unionized into the IWW and have been pressuring management to sit down and negotiate with them. Signed union authorization cards representing a super-majority of the workers were presented to management on Dec. 27 by a group of workers and union representatives. Management refused voluntary recognition of the union and the union reps were physically assaulted. A very tense situation took a strange twist when the police arrived and informed management the union organizers would be allowed to complete their work on the property.

Workers at CCC, also known as The Buy Back, have been organizing for three months, seeking better working conditions, better pay, more vacation time, specific skill level definitions, and more democracy on the job. CCC workers started talking union when IWW members at curbside recycling in Berkeley signed a new contract. Word spread that the curbside contract was a good deal for the workers and the organizing drive picked up momentum through the efforts of a union rep and a curbside worker who left curbside to work at the Buy Back. One crucial concern is health benefits for workers' families. Presently health care is available only to the workers themselves. The lowest-paid workers at the Buy Back are making $8 an hour, which during economic boom times is scandalous. Additionally, CCC workers want a union to gain respect on the job. They say there hasn't been much up to now.

CCC general manager Jeff Belchamber agreed to consult with the union, but ultimately refused to recognize the union or to agree to abide by federal labor laws. The workers brought signed cards to the National Labor Relations Board in early January. The election is scheduled for Feb. 7. As of now management has yet to engage in blatant union busting tactics. Management did turn the list of eligible voters over to the IWW and the NLRB on schedule.

Workers are still asking the Community Conservation Centers board of directors to voluntarily recognize the union and immediately begin negotiating a union contract. If they refuse, organizers are confident that they will win the NLRB election set for Feb. 7. It appears that the board is split on the issue of voluntary recognition and has so far opted for the election process.

Buy Back workers have been meeting with union organizers once a week to strategize and prepare for the election. Wednesdays are union solidarity days. Last Wednesday, every worker was given a sticker that said Union Si or Union Yes as they entered the plant gate. They wore the stickers all day. Wednesday is also the day of the week that the election will take place.

The union, NLRB and management have agreed to a 45-minute election period Feb. 7th. The facility will shut down early and management will leave the property.

CCC will become the second recycling shop represented by the IWW in Berkeley. The IWW also represents the curbside recyclers at the Berkeley Ecology Center. The Buy Back is where curbside recycling is unloaded and sorted. Individuals can also recycle their plastic, glass and metal at The Buy Back and receive cash.

Javier Ceja, Buy Back worker and strong union supporter put it best. He said simply, "The union benefits us all, for our families and for ourselves."

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)