If you live in California, you’re no stranger to union strikes and all the drama that comes with their various protests. Even if you don’t, no doubt you recently felt the impact when every television show (except for Celebrity Fit Club, thank Jesus) was forced to take a little break because Hollywood writers ran out of creativity or money or something- but I digress…
Recently, union struggles have severely impacted the University of California (UC) campuses. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents some 20,000 University of California healthcare and service employees (5,400 employed at UCLA alone) has organized its members who have been working for months on expired contracts.
Unlike the writers, members of AFSCME’s local 3299 have continued to work while trying to get a living wage worked into a new contract with the UC system. Instead of a non-stop picket, AFSCME has been organizing on specific days to make a statement.
Students in the University of California’s 10-campus system have been very supportive of AFSCME by participating in various walk-outs and protests. Beyond that, many students showed a great deal of initiative by creating various Facebook groups and facilitating events (including a boycott and hunger strike!!!) in order to make sure UC officials knew they were standing in solidarity with the workers. In addition, several student-run organizations at the UC campuses have formally, and publically, endorsed AFSCME 3299’s fight.
On June 13, UCLA had their College of Letters and Science Commencement at Pauley Pavilion. Bill Clinton had agreed to give the commencement address to over 4,000 students, surrounded by their family and friends who year after year, fill Pauley Pavilion to capacity. Days before commencement, (and right in the middle of finals), these soon-to-be UCLA graduates were basically given the finger by AFSCME. The union’s leaders urged Bill Clinton to renege on his scheduled commencement address at UCLA citing the ongoing fight between AFSCME and the UC campuses and their scheduled picket at the graduation ceremonies.
Now, I’m a big fan of Bill. Somehow I remember Clinton being elected in 1992 (I was 7…) and being excited for reasons that I couldn’t explain. That excitement carried on and has not returned since. Yes, I’ve heard of Barack Obama– he just doesn’t do it for me.
I also remember being a little upset (jealous, even) in 1998 when Monica Lewinsky became famous for crawling around in the Oval Office. At that point, I had yet to even see a man’s penis, but if I had that opportunity, I would have been all over it… Surprisingly, my stint as an intern in early 2007 was without scandal- since then is a different story. But again, I digress…
Bill Clinton ended up pulling out of the UCLA graduation ceremony because he refused to cross the picket line.
Early in June, prior to all of the UC commencement ceremonies, a previously approved two-day strike was called off by AFSCME leaders due to the fact that the UC officials agreed to start contract talks again. Why did AFSCME decide to pull this scheduled strike, but not the one to take place at graduation?
Of course, the union president had a few pennies on the matter: “I’m very glad that people are supporting our cause and sending a message to the university that they can’t treat workers this way.” I think I might have missed the AFSCME “message to the university.” Was there one? If there was, they’re certainly doing it wrong.
Soon after, the UC officials issued this statement: “We do feel that it’s unfortunate that the union has pushed for these cancellations, since they have no bearing on negotiations and only serve to disrupt the commencement ceremonies for students and their families.” Instead, the only obvious message was that AFSCME will screw over students who they so desperately want to continue providing services to.
And it wasn’t just Bill Clinton. Former state Assembly Speaker, Fabian Nunez was supposed to speak at UC Davis’ commencement. Nunez was also scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley two years ago, but a separate AFSCME strike helped put a stop to that as well. Rep. Hilda Solis, Rep. Henry Waxman, and retired Army General Wesley Clark were all scheduled to speak at different departmental ceremonies at UCLA, but wouldn’t cross the picket line. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (who was a possible contender for Hillary Clinton’s seat in the Senate had she won the nomination) was scheduled to address UC San Diego students. Assemblywoman Fiona Ma and Assemblyman John Laird were scheduled at UC Santa Cruz.
AFSCME members should be publicly shamed for taking a special piece of graduation away from the students who have been nothing but supportive since day one. I understand that there is a deep truth to the allegations that the real assholes here are the insanely rich UC officials, but AFSCME made a very strategic move in a very political game: as a general rule, most democrats do not cross picket lines. Now AFSCME has the “backing” of all of these democratic leaders– but possibly only by default.
Unfortunately, we live in an all-or-nothing kind of culture where people are unable to accept that change sometimes has to come in small doses. In February, UC officials offered an additional $16 million and AFSCME turned it down because it was short of their per- hour goal. AFSCME should have just taken it. If the Governator’s proposed budget passes, $240 million will disappear from the UC system. I wouldn’t count on a raise after that…
One AFSCME woman who cleans dorm rooms at UCLA said she makes just under $11 an hour. A patient-care worker noted that she makes $16 an hour, but her counterparts at Kaiser Permanente make $18. We all know that $11 an hour isn’t exactly a living wage, but c’mon. AFSCME claims that their workers typically earn 25% less than their counterparts at other places. If that’s the case, I’m going into the janitorial business, or I’ll get a medical technician job at Kaiser.
It can’t actually be that bad, right? I don’t see AFSCME members fleeing the UC campuses in pursuit of that identical job that pays 25% more. There are many pros and cons when it comes to unions, but when unemployment is as high as it is and there’s a budget crisis in the state, if you’re making $11 an hour to clean a dorm room, you’re a goddamned baller.
So hey, if that $11 an hour job isn’t good enough for you, I know plenty of people willing to take it off your hands…