The Ecology Center runs all three of Berkeley’s farmers markets. File photo: Neil Mishalov

Administrative and farmers market employees at Berkeley’s Ecology Center are hoping to unionize. 

Twelve workers at the Berkeley environmental nonprofit notified their managers via email on Friday that they want to join the Industrial Workers of the World Union (IWW), which the Ecology Center’s recycling drivers have been organized with since 1989. 

The Ecology Center currently employs 20 non-managerial workers who help operate Berkeley’s three farmers markets, staff the center’s store at 2530 San Pablo Ave. and do other administrative work like writing grants and teaching classes, according to union organizers. 

Organizers are seeking voluntary recognition from management, but have not yet received a response, said Lucy Asako Boltz, who coordinates the center’s farmers market access and equity program.

They are asking that inflation-based cost of living adjustments be guaranteed to help afford the cost of living in the Bay Area. They also hope a union will ensure worker protections and eliminate favoritism. 

“Having the ability to negotiate with management as a group will help us to gain respect and make our workplace more equitable,” worker Beth Williams said in a press release issued by organizers.

Martin Bourque, the Ecology Center’s executive director, has not responded to emails and phone calls requesting comment. 

The Ecology Center was founded in 1969 and, as of 2020, had more than $5.2 million in assets, according to financial statements. In addition to running Berkeley’s farmers markets and the city’s curbside recycling program, the center runs a youth environmental academy and convenes the Berkeley California Action Coalition (BCAC), which works closely with the city to meet its climate goals. 

Farmers market manager Aimee Hutton said the workers began organizing as a group in summer 2021 to communicate their needs to management, especially as the center’s lowest paid workers struggled to cover costs of living in the Bay Area. 

A job posting for a store program associate in 2021 ranged from $16.50 to $18.93. Organizers have declined to share current wages.

“We did make great headway on this issue, with the organization making across the board wage adjustments that were meaningful to workers,” she wrote in an email, but she said unionizing would ensure a continued voice in the workplace. 

“It’s not just about getting a higher and liveable wage,” Hutton wrote in an email. “Ultimately, we realized we need the structure of a union to make sure that workers in the future don’t have to be afraid to negotiate over issues of pay or benefits — and not be on their own in this.”

Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. A former music journalist, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Francisco Examiner...