University of California service workers from the system’s nine campuses, five medical facilities and the Lawrence Berkeley Labs held a one-day strike Thursday to protest what they said is UC’s disrespect for their jobs and its refusal to bargain in good faith for a new contract.
At UC Berkeley, low-wage service workers including custodians, food-service workers, bus drivers and maintenance workers were joined on several picket lines by other UC unions and hundreds of students who skipped classes to show their support. Pickets started at 6 a.m. and were scheduled to continue until 11:30 p.m.
Cal’s new Chancellor Robert Birgeneau surprised strikers by speaking twice at the picket line. Around 4 p.m., strikers marched to International House on the east side of campus where Birgeneau was holding a reception for faculty and staff to kick-off his three-day inauguration celebration which lasts through Saturday. They demanded that he come out and address the crowd. Two union workers told the Daily Planet that they went into the reception and convinced him to come out. Outside, Birgeneau took one of the bull horns and expressed his support for increased pay.
“I support a living wage throughout the UC system,” he said. He also said he has called the UC Office of the President and expressed his concern about the issues raised by strikers.
According to Noel Gallagher, a spokesperson for UC Berkeley, Chancellor Birgeneau had visited workers around 9 a.m. where he also conveyed his support for a salary increase.
Workers said the visits were encouraging but are waiting to see if the university makes any moves at the bargaining table.
“They need to treat us with the respect we deserve,” said Maricruz Manzanares, a custodian who cleans three floors in one of the UC Berkeley dormitories. Manzanares, who lives in Richmond with her husband and three kids, has worked at UC Berkeley for six years and makes $12 an hour. Manzanares, along with her co-workers, has not received a raise since October 2002.
She said her wages are not enough to support her family, which is dependent on a second income from her husband. As prices of gas and other necessities continue to rise, she said she might be forced to find a second job.
“I hope [the university] listens,” she said, as she stood amongst the crowd who participated in a noontime rally in front of Sproul Hall.
In addition to the low pay, workers said they want more opportunities to advance in their job categories and for the university to provide job training programs that could help them advance their careers. They also want an end to what they say is a discriminatory hiring process. Along with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union, the workers have been bargaining with UC over these issues since a previous contract expired in June of last year.
The two sides have met 27 times since the contract expired, according to the union. After both sides were unable to reach an agreement they declared impasse and began meeting with a state mandated mediator. After meetings with the mediator did not produce a settlement, the process went into a fact-finding period which just ended. According to Faith Raider, the spokesperson for the union, the end of the fact-finding process officially allowed the union to strike.
“The workers have been angry about the way they have been treated for a very long time,” said Raider. “The university made it very clear that they were not willing to move on a couple of key issues, so workers thought this was the right thing to do.”
The university disagrees with the technicalities about whether the negotiations process had ended, and therefore whether it was sanctioned for the union to strike. In a press release written by the UC Office of the President, the university called the strike “unlawful and unprotected,” and a clear demonstration of “bad faith bargaining.”
Noel Van Nyhuis, a spokesperson for the Office of the President, said the university has negotiated in good faith and “will continue to do so.”
At the strike, the union said it will escalate its tactics if there is no resolution when the two sides return to the bargaining table. According to Debra Grabelle, the initial strike was only one day because it sent a clear message but did not keep workers, who depend on every day’s pay, from missing multiple days of work.
Members of the Coalition of University Employees, which represents clerical workers at UC, the Union of Professional and Technical Employees, and student workers represented by the United Auto Workers all honored the picket line. Several classes were either canceled or moved off campus so students would not have to cross the picket.
Workers said they were especially excited about the student turnout. They said the student’s support was encouraging because it showed them that the students acknowledge and care about the work they do.
“The student support was tremendous,” said Joe Pulido, a senior building maintenance worker. “We love the students.”ô