‘Equal rights, equal pay’: UC labor union protests income inequality on 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death

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Maryam Eldeeb/Staff

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More than 400 workers, students and community members took to the streets Wednesday in a rally organized by AFSCME Local 3299 to protest widening racial and gender pay gaps in the UC workforce.

AFSCME is the UC’s largest employment union, representing more than 25,000 employees. The union organized the rally to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. The rally also drew attention to racial, gender and income gaps at the UC, as reported in a recent study by AFSCME Local 3299.

UC spokesperson Claire Doan said in an email that the UC cannot confirm the accuracy of the conclusions made in the report because it does not know how AFSCME arrived at this information.

Protesters gathered at Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue at noon and began the rally with chants such as “UC, UC you’re no good, treat your workers like you should!”

Speeches were also delivered by community leaders, including Richmond Vice Mayor Melvin Willis, before beginning a march down Bancroft Way. The group ended the rally with a sit-in on the intersection of Telegraph and Bancroft, where they began. Others, including Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, delivered speeches and rally cries at this time.

Workers represented by AFSCME have been in contract talks with UC for almost one year, according to a press release from AFSCME released Tuesday. The press release alleged that the UC has proposed cuts to frontline staff compensation and continued outsourcing of jobs to low-wage contractors. AFSCME spokesperson Todd Stenhouse said the UC has also proposed stagnant wages.

“The issues that Dr. King died fighting to expose, fighting to address, are still present here, still present at the premier public university in the country,” said Stenhouse. “This protest is about calling on UC to take a long, hard, humble look in the mirror and to address the systemic inequality that is pervasive across the system.”

Workers and students from across the state attended the protest, from UC San Francisco, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UC Merced and UC Berkeley, according to campus student and AFSCME intern, Giovanni D’Ambrosio.

Nicolas Gutierrez, a senior custodian at UC Santa Cruz who has worked for the university for 23 years, said the protest emphasized respecting workers. He quoted Dr. King’s principles of respecting the “dignity of labor.”

“This is really heartbreaking, that (the UC) doesn’t want to give us raises for five years,” said Rocio Rodriguez, a custodian at Unit 3 Residence Hall. “It’s really sad to see that they increase the tuition for students, and we don’t see the money. … I just want equal rights, equal pay.”

Shayann Hendricks covers race and diversity. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @shayannih.