UC Berkeley’s three-day strike took its greatest toll Wednesday as numerous classes were canceled after lecturers marched alongside clerical workers on the final day of their strike.
Lecturers are nontenured professors who teach approximately one-quarter of the university’s classes – and like the striking secretaries, telephone operators and child care workers – the lecturers have been without a contract for more than a year and accuse the university of purposely stalling contract negotiations.
Students said Wednesday that several graduate student instructors and tenured professors joined lecturers in canceling class to show sympathy for the striking workers.
“I probably should have stayed home today,” said one student whose anthropology class was canceled due to the strike.
On an otherwise sparsely populated campus at least 700 strikers were joined by elected officials and a strong contingent of students at a boisterous final campus rally outside California Hall.
Berkeley mayoral candidate Tom Bates, a former UC Berkeley lecturer, drew cheers when he told strikers that his department could not have functioned without clerical workers.
Bates’ opponent this November, incumbent Mayor Shirley Dean, lead strikers in the chant “negotiate now.”
After appearing uninterested at the beginning of the strike Monday, most students now say they support the strikers.
“People have started talking about it,” said Danilo Trisi, a graduate student. “From what I read, it seems that the college can offer them more.”
After the rally, clericals said the strike had clearly demonstrated their importance to the university.
“I don’t care what they say, I think they’re scared to death,” said Jude Bell, an administrative assistant for the art practice department.
But Paul Schwartz, a university spokesperson, said the strike can’t change the fact that state budget cuts prevent the university from meeting the union’s salary demands.
“We have given the unions everything we possibly can,” Schwartz said. “When the state is looking at a $23.5 billion budget deficit, I think we were lucky that the universities weren’t cut more.”
The clericals, represented by the Coalition of University Employees, want a 15 percent raise over two years, but the university says it can only guarantee them 2 percent this year, and just another 1.5 percent next year if state funding remains stable.
Lecturers, who say that on average they make less than local grade school teachers, want increased pay and job security. Presently, a lecturer can only get a contract that extends longer than one year after six years of continuous employment. And they can never receive a contract longer than three years.
“I’ve worked here two years, but I didn’t find out until the final day of last semester if I’d have a job this fall,” said Stuart Tonnock, a lecturer in the school of education.
University officials and union spokespeople continued to give conflicting accounts of the strike’s impact on university services and operations.
University spokesperson Carol Hyman said that 60 percent of the clericals had crossed the picket line. She said that the clericals’ strike coupled with sympathy strikes by other unions hindered telephone service, slowed construction projects, prevented overnight mail deliveries and reduced available medical service.
Students said Wednesday that the inconveniences caused by the strike added up.
“For me this has been a pretty big deal,” said Ben Durie, a senior whose job at a university child care center was postponed due to striking child care workers.
Yuri Pan said he went to the math department for advice about a class, but found that all of the counselors had refused to work out of respect for the clericals.
Today, striking clericals and lecturers are expected to return to their jobs. Lucy Montanez didn’t envision any difficulty in working under the same contract after three days of picketing.
“We all love what we do and we want to make this the best institution possible,” she said.
University negotiators will meet with lecturers and a state-appointed mediator Sept. 5 and 6. There is no confirmed date for further negotiations between the clericals and the university.
Officials for both unions said more strikes are possible if negotiations continue to falter.
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