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UC Berkeley speakers boycott gains steam

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, May 12th, 2010 at 12:15 pm in Berkeley, California State Senate, education, George Miller, Gloria Romero, U.S. House.

Add State Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, to the list of speakers who have withdrawn from commencement activities at the University of California, Berkeley due to ongoing labor strife.

Gloria RomeroRomero, also a candidate for state Superintendent of Public Instruction, had been scheduled to keynote the UC Berkeley Latino Student ceremony this Saturday; a labor union issued a statement today in which Romero said she’ll honor a boycott called by Cal workers and student groups.

“It was with a heavy heart that I informed the UC Berkeley students and dedicated faculty and staff that I would not appear to deliver my remarks in person. What an irony I would have seen: on one hand, students in robes celebrating the overcoming of obstacles and staking their claim in the American Dream; on the other hand, I would have seen Latino workers—perhaps their own uncles and aunts, holding picket signs asking this internationally acclaimed university to simply pay them a living wage so that the graduates’ younger ‘hermanitos’ could one day attend the same university,” Romero said in her statement.

Others who have chosen to honor the boycott include former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, who had been scheduled to address graduating political science students on Monday, and author Karen Joy Fowler, who had been scheduled to address graduating English Department students next Sunday, May 23. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, earlier this week cancelled her June 12 appearance at UC Riverside’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences graduation ceremonies, saying her family roots are in organized labor and she won’t cross a picket line to speak.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 – which represents more than 20,000 UC service and patient care workers and which announced Romero’s withdrawal – said the boycotts have been called in part due to mandatory reductions in hours for low-wage service workers, such as custodians and food service workers – cuts of 4 to 6 percent in take-home pay, when some were already making as little as $24,000 a year.

“These cuts have been devastating for low-wage workers,” said AFSCME 3299 President Lakesha Harrison. “Layoffs and reduction in hours are only the tip of the iceberg. UC executives are now proposing massive cuts to our retirement. We may be facing a double whammy – a depletion of our savings now and a gutting of the income we were counting on for our future.”

The UC Berkeley speakers boycott also been called by the Union of Professional and Technical Employees; CWA Local 1 (UPTE 1) represents UC research support and technical workers.

And that’s not the only Cal labor strife that’s getting political attention this week. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, wrote a letter yesterday to UC President Mark Yudof expressing his concern about the university’s failure to come to an agreement with the union representing its 6,000 post-doctoral scholars – a topic on which he held a committee field hearing just a few weeks ago.

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  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    Fancy that, the most liberal-minded big university in America being denounced as anti-labor. Cool! As for Miller, he’s a fool worrying about grad students. A union for scholars is absurd.