Workers at Berkeley’s Ecology Center won their union election with the Industrial Workers of the World San Francisco Bay Area branch. Courtesy: Industrial Workers of the World

Workers at Berkeley’s Ecology Center voted to unionize roughly two months after announcing the union drive

The workers, including farmers market administrators and staff at the center’s San Pablo Avenue store, voted 12-0 to join the Industrial Workers of the World’s San Francisco Bay Area branch, organizers announced Thursday. A 13th ballot was challenged over a dispute on whether the youth program assistant could be in the union, but it did not impact the election results.

Workers have said they are unionizing for inflation-based cost of living adjustments, worker protections and to address favoritism. Farmers market manager Aimee Hutton told Berkeleyside in February the workers began organizing as a group in the summer of 2021 to communicate their needs to management, especially as the center’s lowest-paid workers struggled to cover the cost 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.

“I know that it’s the only way for workers to have a real say over our work,” said organizer Lucy Boltz in a news release. “Having a union will give me, my coworkers, and workers after me a way to be protected, decide what we need, and directly negotiate for it.”

Union organizers had previously said the Ecology Center employs 20 non-managerial workers, yet only 13 workers could vote in the election. Martin Bourque, the Ecology Center’s executive director, did not immediately respond to an email and phone call 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 nonprofit runs a youth environmental academy. It convenes the Berkeley California Action Coalition (BCAC), which works closely with the city to meet its climate goals. The center’s recycling drivers unionized with the IWW in 1989.

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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...