Six hundred striking clerical workers could not keep hoards of UC Berkeley students from attending their first day of class Monday.
The union chant, “UC Berkeley is a crime, please don’t cross the picket line,” fell on deaf ears as most students poured into campus to find nearly every class in session and professors ready and willing to teach.
“They say don’t go to class, but I have to, otherwise, I’ll be unenrolled pretty fast,” said John Adams, a transfer student.
Despite a fairly normal day of classes, the Coalition of University Employees, which represents the 2,300 striking telephone operators, secretaries, library assistants and clerical workers at UC Berkeley and the Office of the President in Oakland, pointed to effects of the strike.
Child care services, medical services, deliveries and construction projects were all either halted or scaled back, said Michael-David Sasson, president of Local 3 of CUE.
The clerical workers have been without a contract since January 2001. They are asking for a 15 percent raise over two years, but university officials say state budget cuts allow only 3.5 percent.
“The numbers are driven by state funding, university spokesperson Paul Schwartz said. “If we got more funding we’d offer more.”
But union officials charge that the university hasn’t tapped a $2.3 billion fund that could pay for raises. They also say that the university has negotiated in bad faith, citing a “take it or leave it offer” given to the union earlier this month.
“We’re tired of the corporate mentality that has taken over UC,” Amatullah Alaji-Sabrie, a CUE spokesperson said.
University officials, though, said their offers were fair. “We take the matter seriously and our proposals reflect that,” said Schwartz.
On Wednesday, lecturers, who university officials say account for 22 percent of instructors, will strike alongside clericals, potentially forcing the cancellation of 300 classes.
The lecturers have been without a contract for two years. They want better pay and more job security. “It’s unconscionable for a premier university to pay teachers with Ph.D.s less than elementary school teachers,” said Michael Eisencher of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, which represents lecturers.
Although a small, undetermined number of professors canceled classes Monday in deference to the strike, most who wanted to show support moved classes to off-campus sites.
“We’ve scheduled 18 classes here today,” said Charlene Van Ness of the YWCA at 2600 Bancroft St., adding that the organization offered professors reduced rates for rooms as a measure to show solidarity with the strikers.
Myrto Miliou, a graduate student teacher, taught architectural drawing class on a grass field outside the Berkeley Museum Pacific Film Archive.
“We [some department teachers] talked about the strike and decided not to have classes on campus,” said Miliou.
Students forced off-campus did not seem bothered by the move.
“As long as I am supporting them it doesn’t matter,” said Aaron Choi, while waiting for his class to begin at the YWCA.
Although most classes met as scheduled, the absence of clericals strained student services.
Justin Portillo, an undergraduate student, said he was on the wait list for one class, but cannot find out if he is enrolled because of the strike.
In addition, several departments, including mathematics and anthropology, did not answer telephone calls Monday.
University spokesperson Carol Hyman, however, said the university was running fine. “Some offices have a lot of people out, but services have been covered.”
Off the main campus, CUE found allies in other unions.
The nurses union voted to stage a sympathy strike Monday, effectively shutting down the university medical center except for in emergency cases.
The university has initiated legal action against the nurses, Hyman said. The university says the sympathy strike is illegal due to a “no strike” clause in their contract.
Several unionized truck drivers also joined the effort by refusing to deliver to the medical center or to other university locations.
Construction at the Underhill Parking Garage at Channing and Bowditch streets was among eight projects halted when picketers told unionized construction workers about the strike. Construction workers said they would not return to their jobs until Thursday.
The three-day strike is slated to end Wednesday. Lectures are scheduled to resume negotiations with university officials and a state-appointed mediator during the first week of September. CUE is tentatively scheduled to return to the bargaining table Sept. 11-13.