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UC Workers Rally, Win Promise of Meeting with Chancellor By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday April 05, 2005

A noon rally of angry UC Berkeley workers in front of California Hall last Friday had a surprise result—a chance sidewalk encounter between union leaders and Chancellor Robert Birgenau in which Birgenau agreed to a formal, fact-finding meeting with worker representatives. 

The Coalition of University Employees (CUE, clerical workers), University Professional and Technical Workers (UPTE), and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME, service workers) called the joint rally to protest what it called the university’s “stalling” on contract negotiations with the three unions. 

A CUE representative said that the union’s representatives are still negotiating the 2003-04 contract, and have filed unfair labor practices charges against the university over its tactics in negotiating the still-unsigned 2004-05 contract. 

Birgenau did not attend the rally but happened up just as it was ending on his way to another meeting at California Hall. He spoke for about 10 minutes to a semi-circle of union leaders and rally participants until he was hustled away to his meeting by a security officer. He fielded questions and asked some of his own about pay and working conditions for UC Berkeley support workers, and eventually agreed to a meeting after union representatives told him “your people are badly misinforming you about the facts.” 

Birgenau said that the meeting would be for informational purposes only. “I’m not authorized to negotiate with you and I’m not going to negotiate,” he said. 

One worker told the chancellor that she had been employed at UC Berkeley for three years “and factoring in inflation, I’m making less now than I did when I was first hired.” 

Union leaders later called the encounter “a stroke of luck.” 

Earlier, a crowd of some hundred workers and student supporters marched in a circle in the hot sun in front of California Hall, chanting “UC, UC you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side,” holding signs reading “[UC President] Dynes takes a pay cut—library workers get 17 percent raise—April Fool!,” “It is not a budget crisis—it is a distribution crisis,” and, simply, “UC Sucks.” Some protesters wore UC blue-and-gold colored dunce caps, and one man appeared in a paper-maché pig’s head with dollars bills dribbling off of his tongue. 

Several rally speakers criticized the university for giving bonuses to department heads and administrative officials while freezing pay for support staff. 

Stephanie Dorton, a CUE member and an administrative assistant at the UC Law School, said told marchers that she had two children, “one of them a 17 year old who is just graduating from high school, and I can’t afford to send her to the school where I work. That’s unacceptable.” 

Kathryn Lybarger, a UC Berkeley gardener and an AFSCME member, said that “university workers have to take second jobs or even pick up cans to make ends meet.” She said that “92 percent of AFSCME members across the state voted in favor of a strike if negotiations break down.” 

She said that an AFSCME strike is a possibility. 

CUE Local 3 Executive Board member Amatullah Alaji-Sabrie, a Law School legal assistant, said following the rally that if one of the three unions strike, “the rest have pledged to honor their picket lines.” 

“UC’s profit margin is going up; they had a $786 million profit last year, and they have $5.2 billion in reserve,” Alaji-Sabrie charged. “They’re telling us that they can’t give us raises because of the state budget problems, but only 16 percent of the university’s money comes from the state budget. The rest comes from research and other outside money that isn’t subject to the state budget crisis and cutbacks.” 

Alaji-Sabrie said the three unions plan to send a delegation to legislative budget hearings in Sacramento on April 7 “to inform legislators of the current situation in our contract talks, and to ask them to put in place more processes to hold the university accountable in their negotiations and in their budgeting.” 

Another pro-union rally is planned for April 14 in Sproul Plaza.