Protesters and union workers march to Tang Center, UCOP for Day of Action

Jan Flatley-Feldman/Staff
Protestors gathered in support of unions, pensions, and medical coverage. The marchers traveled from Telegraph and Bancroft to the Tang Center at noon on Tuesday.

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Around 50 people marched to the Tang Center at noon Tuesday and later headed to the UC Office of the President in Oakland to demand better labor contracts for UC employees.

The march was part of numerous strikes and protests taking place across the Bay Area as part of the International May 1 Day of Action. During the march, speakers demanded a one-year contract to negotiate wage and retirement benefits with the university instead of a UC-proposed two-tier pension plan under a new five-year contract.

In 2007, about 2,200 members of the University Professional and Technical Employees — a union that represents university pharmacists, social workers, clinical laboratory specialists, dietitians and speech therapists  — entered into a five-year contract with the university that expired on June 30, 2011. Most of the other union contracts for service workers, technical employees, nurses and graduate student instructors are set to expire in 2013, according to the current contract’s language.

“The university is trying to force the two-tier pension plan down the throats of our workers,” said Tanya Smith, an editor at the UC Berkeley Archaeological Research Facility and president of the union’s local office, which covers the campus and the UC Office of the President. “We’re not going to take it.”

According to the union’s website, the two-tier pension plan asks UC employees hired on or after July 1, 2013, to pay more to the UC Retirement Plan and pushes retirement age from 50 years to 55 years.

In order to achieve its goal of a one-year contract, workers and union representatives who were gathered at Tuesday’s protests expressed interest in bargaining collectively with the university in 2013.

“We’re in the profession of caring for others — now we’re trying to care for ourselves,” said Maureen Kelly, a counselor for CARE Services at the Tang Center.

Members from the Occupy Cal movement also participated in the march to the Tang Center.

The protesters plan to gather in front of the UC Office of the President in Oakland at 4 p.m. to voice their demands and deliver petitions from union workers.

A mix of students and service workers later began a second rally in front of UCOP at 4 p.m.

The group of around 25 protesters — mostly composed of union workers and Occupy Cal members present at the noon Tang Center rally — were then met by approximately 20 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that represents maintenance and custodial workers of the university.

“Today the (union), which represents 17,000 workers across all UC campuses, are formally opening their contract for bargaining,” said Sarah Leadem, a UC Berkeley senior. “We are unifying with other workers throughout the UCs and California to … support workers and their struggle for better contracts.”

Those gathered also discussed an open letter authored by students, faculty and union representatives to Gov. Jerry Brown and the UC Board of Regents calling for a “transparent process” to fund higher education and rollback tuition increases.

The group then marched to the Wells Fargo branch on Broadway Avenue, where UC Regent Russell Gould was a former executive. Marchers chanted slogans and picketed around the building before dispersing at around 5 p.m.

“Our goal today was to send a clear message to the UC Regents that they need to support fair contracts for the service workers, who are the lowest-paid workers on campus,” said Charlie Eaton, a UC Berkeley graduate student and financial secretary for the United Auto Workers Local 2865. “We’re in this fight together.”

Afsana Afzal covers academics and adminstration.