Univ. of Calif. Commencement Speakers to Cancel Unless UC Workers Guaranteed Fair Contract

by on June 19, 2008 · 12 comments

in Civil Rights, Education, Labor, Organizing

NEWS UPDATE: LA JOLLA – Robert Kennedy Jr., who was scheduled to speak at Thursday’s UC San Diego graduation week celebration, has canceled because he refuses to cross the picket line of 20,000 UC health workers, officials confirmed.

This weekend’s nine UCSD graduation ceremonies, which have local speakers, are not affected. Chancellor Marye Anne Fox will deliver the keynote speech instead, and the all-campus celebration, scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at RIMAC Field, will continue as planned to honor graduates and alumni.

UC Graduation Speakers including Bill Clinton, Robert Kennedy Jr, Fabian Núñez, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma and Angela Davis to Cancel Statewide Unless 20,000 Workers are Guaranteed a Fair Contract

California – Across the state, prominent speakers are ready to cancel at UC commencement ceremonies unless 20,000 UC workers receive a fair contract. President Bill Clinton and Speaker Emeritus of the California Assembly Fabian Núñez have been joined by Robert Kennedy Jr., Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, and Angela Davis in pledging not to speak at UC graduations unless the contract is settled.

Distinguished Professor Jack Miles, Professor Wally Goldfrank, Associate Professor Paul Ortiz, and Lecturer Maria Echaveste are also ready to cancel. Together, this represents speakers at nearly all of the UC campuses where graduations are scheduled, most of which are next week.

Former President Clinton said, “While I’m honored to be invited and really looking forward to speaking at UCLA’s commencement ceremonies, I can’t cross the picket line. I hope it can be resolved quickly.”

The 20,000 patient care and service workers do everything from assisting in surgeries to cleaning dorm rooms in the University of California’s ten campus/five hospital system. They have been negotiating for a fair contract since August, 2007. All of the commencement speakers, students, and workers remain hopeful that an agreement will be reached so that the cancellations of scheduled appearances are not needed.

On Wednesday, UCLA students delivered more than 1,000 signatures to Chancellor Gene Block in support of Bill Clinton’s decision to support workers. Additionally, roughly twenty students and workers are currently engaged in a three-day fast outside of the Chancellor’s office supporting equal pay for equal work and a fair contract for the workers.

“It is important to me that former President Clinton has decided not to speak at UCLA’s graduation if he has to cross a picket line. The commencement ceremony is important to me; but not at the expense of ignoring the plight of thousands of workers on campus,” said Maricruz Cecena, a UCLA graduating senior.

At issue are UC wages which are dramatically behind other hospitals and CA’s community colleges where workers are paid an average of 25% higher for the same work. Patient care workers are concerned this is contributing to high-turnover, staffing shortages, and over-reliance on temps which can affect patient care as extra time is needed to train the constant flow of new staff.

For service workers, wages are as low as $10 an hour, and 96% of UC service workers are income eligible for at least one of the following public assistance programs: food stamps, WIC, public housing subsidies, and reduced lunch. Many work 2-3 jobs to meet their families’ basic needs.

“We understand graduation is a special time at UC and we are proud that Bill Clinton, the other speakers and thousands of students have chosen to stand with us in our fight for equal pay for equal work. UC should do the right thing by settling our contract now, so graduations will not be affected,” said Lakesha Harrison, Licensed Vocational Nurse & President of AFSCME 3299.

State funds comprise only 8.6% of the funding for the 20,000 workers. The vast majority of funding comes from the UC hospitals which posted profits of $371 million last year. CA State-appointed neutral Factfinder Carol Vendrillo, who independently evaluated the labor dispute, said, “It is not the lack of state funding but the University’s priorities…It is time for UC to take a broader view of its priorities by honoring the important contribution that service workers make to the U.C. community and compensating them with wages that are in line with the competitive market rate.”

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, AFL-CIO represents 20,000 patient care and service workers at UC including licensed vocational nurses, medical techs and assistants, respiratory therapists, custodians, cafeteria workers, and security officers. 2201 Broadway Ave, Suite 315 Oakland, CA 94612, (510) 844-1160, media@afscme3299.org

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar graduatingsenior June 11, 2008 at 1:51 am

why would AFSCME target graduating seniors during one of the happiest and most significant moments or our lives?? It is ridiculous and unnecessary for us to have to be deprived of an inspirational speaker

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avatar OB Joe June 11, 2008 at 6:48 am

It’s important for graduating seniors and their parents to know what kind of rotten administration the UC has, that UC does not pay fair wages to its employees, that graduating seniors graduate on the backs of all those lowly workers who make the schools run.

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avatar Molly June 11, 2008 at 7:19 am

Hey Joe – didn’t you even protest your UC graduation back in the stone age?

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avatar OB Joe June 11, 2008 at 7:20 am

Molly – good to see you up so early. It was the stoned age, I believe. And I think it was Gormlie who protested his graduation from UCSD. Not moi.

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avatar Pie Pipper June 11, 2008 at 7:26 am

You guys are being very strict. These seniiors worked for 4 years or more to get to this point. They shouldn’t be punished because admin can’t get it together.

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avatar OB Joe June 11, 2008 at 7:28 am

PP – glad to have you aboard. Everybody’s here.
Those graduating need to be aware of the reality of the world they’re stepping into. There’s lots of crap out there. Might as well learn now.

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avatar Pie Pipper June 11, 2008 at 7:29 am

Was there any effort made by those organizing the picket lines to communicate with the students at UC?

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avatar Molly June 11, 2008 at 7:30 am

Not getting into this debate Joe have to go to work – bye!

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avatar Frank Gormlie June 11, 2008 at 1:00 pm

On Tuesday, 6/10, both Bill Clinton and Fabian Nunez announced that due to the labor dispute they would NOT be speaking at commencement ceremonies.

And yes, Molly, I did protest my college graduation at UCSD. This is described in “1st OB Rag” under “early politics”. The campus, along with all the other UC campuses had been in a strike due to Nixon’s escalation of the Vietnam war, Kent State. Ronald Reagan, then Calif governor, abruptly closed all the campuses in efforts to snuff out the antiwar protests. Many of us came back to our graduation only to walk-out to protest the closing of the campuses. I remember wearing, not a graduation gown, but an old army jacket with a large red fist painted on the back. So, many of us walked out, and had our own party on another part of the campus. Herbert Marcuse was there, along with Angela Davis, with the entire antiwar campus community.

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avatar Monty Reed Kroopkin June 11, 2008 at 4:12 pm

I also protested my UCSD graduation ceremony in 1981. I and a group of fellow Lumumba-Zapata College (aka Third College, NOT “Thurgood Marshall College”) students/graduates handed out bright red leaflets to the whole graduation ceremony crowd, denouncing the trashing of the original college goals and the mistreatment by the admin only a few weeks earlier of a group of Black and Brown students who were protesting the same thing and demanding a return to those goals.

I would NOT have even been there though if it meant I had to cross a picket line. The graduating senior who posted the original comment here ought to honor the picket line and organize an alternative ceremony someplace OFF CAMPUS and do it with the direct collaboration of the union strikers. I am sure the union could provide some VERY “inspirational” speakers.

Hey OB Rag staff, question: what is the situation with their strike fund? Where can people send solidarity donations?

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avatar Randy Epona June 13, 2008 at 6:51 am

My son is graduating from UCLA today and I am a proud member of AFSCME. We are sorry if any seniors are disappointed with the cancellation of many illustrious keynote speakers, but our reality is below market wages for 20,000 janitors, food service workers, security guards, and medical personnel. UC is a huge corporation whose profits last year were $1.45 billion dollars. Thousands of UC workers qualify for public assistance and food stamps. This is a shameful situation.

We thank Bill Clinton, Robert Kennedy, Jr, General Wesley Clark, Fabian Núñez, Assemblyman John Laird, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, Angela Davis, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman and U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis along with many notable professors for supporting our fight. We have been working over 9 months without a contract and 97% of our members have voted to strike. The mainstream media is reluctant to cover our plight.

Congratulations to all of our graduates. We are proud of you.

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avatar notgraduatingyet June 19, 2008 at 12:47 am

not quite graduating yet… but I would completely support the picket line. 371 million in profits posted last year? and 96% of the 20,000 service workers qualify for at least one of the three types of government aid mentioned in the article? That’s just not right. Yeah, its hard work being a UC student, but really now, these people work just as hard doing things that allow us the opportunity to do what we do without worry. Never read the OB Rag before, so I’m not sure where those numbers come from, but if anything near the reported numbers are true, something is gravely wrong.

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