UC Workers Take Over Regent's Office to Demand Pay Raise

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday January 21, 2009 - 07:42:00 PM

More than 60 UC service workers belonging to AFSCME Local 3299 took their fight for higher wages and contract renewals to the office of the chair of the UC Board of Regents, Richard Blum, in downtown San Francisco last week, leading to the arrest of at least 19 workers. 

The group, angry about the lack of progress by UC executives to end poverty wages for 8,500 UC service workers after what they said was more than a year and half of negotiations, occupied Blum Capital—a San Francisco-based investment management firm headed by Blum—at 909 Montgomery Street around 9 a.m. on Jan. 16, and announced their intention not to leave until he and UC President Mark Yudof talked to the workers about raising their wages. 

After parking themselves inside the office for more than 90 minutes, a small group of workers refused to leave without meeting Blum—who was not present at that point—and were arrested by the San Francisco Police Department and taken to the nearby Central Police Station. Calls to Blum at his office for comment were not returned. 

Kathryn Lybarger, a gardener at UC Berkeley who took part in the demonstration, was released from police custody around 11 a.m. 

“Cooks, custodians, gardeners—we have all been fighting for wages that will put us out of poverty,” she said, cheering her co-workers as they walked out from the police station after being freed. “As the economy is getting worse, it is affecting us ever harder. Ninety-six percent of the service workers are eligible for some kind of welfare, even if we work full-time. The university is paying poverty wages, even as they have given bonuses to chief executives over the last year. There’s no reason they can’t settle a contract today, and Blum has the power to make it happen.” 

Lybarger, who has worked at UC Berkeley for seven years, said that although the mediator recommended by UC had made a recommendation to the university that would settle their contract, nothing had moved forward yet. 

She said that the average custodian at UC Berkeley was taking home $24,000, forcing them to work two or three jobs to support their families and take care of rising grocery bills and the increasing risk of home foreclosures. 

Rosa Martinez, a food service worker from UC San Diego who flew to Oakland last night with Angela Velquez, a custodian at the same university, said their low salaries were becoming a challenge for them to survive. 

“The money we get is not enough to cover everything,” she said, explaining that she had to live with her son to cover her expenses. “That’s the only way I can go on.” 

Velquez said that in order to provide for her two children, she had taken up another job at the Marriott Hotel in San Diego, sacrificing her weekends and holidays. 

“We got a raise last year, but it’s not enough,” she said. “It continues to be a struggle.”