Sen. Kamala Harris Backs UC Workers and Cancels Commencement Speech

By Office of the Attorney General of California [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

May 7, 2018; US News and World Report (AP)

US Senator Kamala Harris, previously slated to give the spring commencement address at the University of California, Berkeley, this Saturday, said she would not attend, after striking workers from the university system’s 10 campuses and five medical centers called for a speakers’ boycott to support their cause. The workers— who include UC custodians, security guards, gardeners, and other service workers— walked out yesterday demanding an end to the displacement of longtime permanent workers in favor of contracted labor and gender pay inequities, among other things. Civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis is scheduled to speak in June at UC San Diego, but he has not yet responded to the union about whether he might cancel.

All 10 UC campuses saw protests associated with the strike called by AFSCME Local 3299, which represents 25,000 service workers.

According to the UCSD Guardian, the University has its own track record of increasing wage inequity:

A report released by AFSCME found widening income, race, and gender inequality among UC workers. The report, which was published earlier this month, indicates that between 2005 and 2015, the top ten percent of UC wage earners saw their share of the total payroll cost grow from 22 percent to 31 percent while the share of the bottom 50 percent of wage earners decreased from 24 percent to 22 percent.

Whites and Asian/Pacific Islander workers are more often hired into higher-paying titles, while Blacks [and Latinxs] are more often hired into lower-paying jobs,” AFSCME stated, concluding that racial and gender hierarchies have formed among employees.”

Meanwhile, the California Nurses Association and the University Professional and Technical Employees Union are expected to join picket lines today and tomorrow.—Ruth McCambridge