Saying the University of California's sharply misguided priorities call for unprecedented and unified action, two University of California employees represented by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 have joined students in a hunger strike at the UC Berkeley campus. Today's action comes after workers last week called on prominent graduation speakers at UC campuses statewide to refuse to deliver their commencement addresses unless workers' demands are met (see list of demands below).
Abel Salas, a gardener at UC Berkeley, and the latest addition to the hunger strikers, said, "It is the most important thing we can do, to show that students and workers deeply care about these issues and each other, and are both willing to put our bodies on the line for justice."
Maricruz Manzanares, a custodian who also joined the students in the hunger strike, said,
"If UC can afford millions in pay raises for executives, the University can certainly afford to keep front-line workers on the job to keep the campus healthy and safe. Students realize that a strong educational community includes the dedicated staff who keep the university running, and we join with students in demanding that UC make education -- not executive perks -- its top priority."
Workers say UC has for too long ignored the calls of students and staff to halt raises and bonuses for UC executives while classes are overflowing, students are turned away, and low-wage workers see their hours and jobs cut.
UC executives claim that the cuts to workers’ jobs and hours are a necessary byproduct of reduced state funding, but workers who are struggling to keep their homes and feed their families see things differently. According to Lakesha Harrison, president of AFSCME 3299, “UC executives claim to be saving $7 million by cutting low wage workers. Yet UC executives have received over $9 million in bonuses and raises since the cuts were implemented. This is just wrong.”
Full-time UC workers making as little as $12 per hour, or $24,000 annually are experiencing anywhere between 4% to 20% reductions in take-home pay. As a result, many of these workers at UC are being pushed into poverty, losing their homes, and having to work multiple jobs to support their families.
AFSCME 3299 and UPTE Local 1, two of the largest unions representing UC Berkeley workers, have called for a speakers' boycott of UC Berkeley graduations, and today said that they will not call off their upcoming speakers boycott of UC graduations unless the hunger strikers’ demands are met. The boycott asks prominent commencement speakers to refuse to address graduations unless UC:
1) Restores jobs for laid off service workers, Cal Performances workers, and UPTE union activists at UC Berkeley
2) Restores the hours that were cut from low-wage service workers at UC Berkeley
3) Drops the student conduct charges that occurred during the academic year 2009-10. Students should not be prosecuted for peacefully protesting UC executives' misplaced priorities.
4) Commits to doing everything within UC’s power to preserve quality, affordable benefits for UC workers
5) Suspends the student code of conduct and initiates a democratic, student-led process to review the code.
6) Accepts responsibility for the violence and escalation of the confrontation surrounding Wheeler Hall on November 20th that resulted in injuries to many students and commits to using non-violent means of ensuring safety at student demonstrations in the future.
7) Publicly denounces Arizona's law and deems UC Berkeley a sanctuary campus for immigrant students and workers.