Final day of union strike closes with crowd of more than 100 hearing from speakers

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Zahira Chaudhry/Staff

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On the third and final day of their strike, more than 100 UC workers gathered and chanted on Upper Sproul Plaza, hoping to be heard by the UC Office of the President, or UCOP.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 union’s strike was organized after members were forced to sign a contract with terms the union had rejected. Lead UC Berkeley AFSCME organizer Libertad Ayala addressed the crowd, saying the UC now understands the impact of the workers’ absence.

“Every single campus will know when we go into work tomorrow what dignity looks like,” Ayala said to the crowd. “You walk in there with your head held high, knowing that you shut down UC.”

UCOP spokesperson Stephanie Beechem said in an email that the strike has “unfairly” affected the UC community.

“All union leaders have accomplished in this strike is hurting care for patients and services for students,” Beechem said in an email. “The strike will do nothing to change UC’s position on AFSCME’s unreasonable demands for excessive raises and benefits.”

Lead custodian Ricky Cason said he is hopeful that the UC will have sympathy for the workers’ dilemma and give the AFSCME workers “what we deserve,” which Cason says is “fair wages with good benefits and good retirement.”

Workers at the strike formed a picket circle, holding signs that read “Equality. Fairness. Respect.” and chanting, “No contracts, no peace,” to mobilize the crowd of people at the Bancroft Way opening to campus.

Closing out the three-day strike were speakers such as City Councilmember Cheryl Davila and Oakland mayoral candidate Cat Brooks as well as Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education Vice President and state Assembly District 15 candidate Judy Appel.

“I know the importance of standing with workers to make sure that you get fair wages, that you have health care coverage, that you can afford to live in the community where you work … and that you are treated with the dignity and respect you deserve,” Appel said to the crowd.

Members of the California Nurses Association, or CNA, and University Professional and Technical Employees went on strike in solidarity with the AFSCME workers, along with many other campus unions.

Jennifer Stockford, an advice nurse at the Tang Center and member of CNA, said she is striking in solidarity with her colleagues who work in areas such as counseling services and who work as support staff for medical assistants.

The AFSCME workers at the rally marched together to Newman Hall for a special worker’s mass, according to Ayala.

“Our students deserve the best,” Ayala said. “When we lift up our voices, it’s not only for our needs — it’s for our students, our patients and our communities.”

Contact Amanda Bradford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandabrad_uc.