Workers Accuse LBNL of Discrimination

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The clerical workers' union filed a complaint Wednesday with a federal civil rights agency against the UC-managed Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, alleging that the lab discriminates against workers because of their race, gender and age.

The Coalition of University Employees filed the charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stating that the lab's lower-level clerical employees are paid under a system that keeps them from advancing and obtaining higher wages.

"The main premise of our charge has to do with the wage scale," said Margot Rosenberg, the union's attorney. "Ninety-three percent of the clerical employees at LBNL are women. These women are kept on the most arbitrary and arcane pay system that you can imagine, while the male employees at the lab represented by the union are able to break out of this arcane system."

Rosenberg said the union attempted to bargain with the lab for the past two years, but that lab negotiators refused to come to the table and hear their demands.

Discrimination is not only limited to women, but also extends to minorities and older employees, he said.

"If you look at the racial makeup of the clerical unit, you'll find that numbers of minority employees are disproportionately represented in lower-paying, entry-level jobs," she said. "(Also) the older employees who have longevity at the lab are basically stuck in low-paying, entry-level jobs."

Mark Covington, a union negotiator, added that the lab ordered unwarranted blood testing of minorities for various diseases.

"The Berkeley Lab, without our knowledge or permission, withdrew blood samples and tested our blood for sickle cell and syphilis, primarily targeting minorities," said Covington, who is black. "The laboratory throughout the whole matter said that this was for the benefit of their employees."

Lab spokesperson Ron Kolb said the majority of employees were aware that the testing was part of a physical required of all new lab employees.

"We let employees know what blood tests they were receiving as a part of a battery of tests," he said.

Kolb also denied that the lab discriminates against any employees.

"We don't have any systematic discrimination in our labs," he said. "We employ a wage-setting process that is both equitable and competitive. We pay our clerical employees 10 percent more than at similar positions at other labs in the UC system. We are at market in terms of what these positions demand."

In response to the union's claim that the lab has a "glass ceiling" preventing upward mobility for certain clerical employees, Kolb said many employees have been promoted based on quality performance.

"A third of our clerical employees received promotions in the last year," he said. "We do take care of our high performing people."

This "pay for performance" system, however, tends to rely on personal preference and favoritism, Covington said.

"We don't get any guaranteed increases," he said. "If you're well liked you might get a better increase. It's left to the discretion of the supervisor that you work for."


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