May Day rally draws support for worker and immigrant rights

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About 150 workers and students gathered on Sproul Plaza Wednesday afternoon to rally in support of workers’ and immigrants’ rights.

The rally began at noon and was followed by a protest in the streets surrounding the campus before ending outside California Hall. UC Berkeley’s May Day event coincides with other International Workers’ Day activities throughout the Bay Area that seek to improve conditions for workers and citizenship opportunities for immigrants.

“We need to say that this university belongs to the public,” said Hatem Bazian, a professor of Near Eastern studies who attended the rally. “It was built by us collectively … yet we have institutions and leadership that think they are on the board of directors of corporation A or B.”

Workers from multiple unions — including AFSCME 3299, a union representing health care and service workers, and UAW Local 2865, a union representing UC student workers — attended the rally.

Wednesday’s May Day rally comes in the midst of labor negotiations between AFSCME 3299 and the university.

“It’s all part of putting the pressure on UC to give us a just and fair contract,” said Sarah Leadem, an organizer for AFSCME 3299.

AFSCME recently scheduled a strike vote from April 30 to May 2 to bring attention to alleged patient-care violations and the elimination of hundreds of frontline care jobs. In a statement, Dwaine Duckett, UC vice president for systemwide human resources, said that the university is open to compromise but needs engagement from AFSCME leaders.

Amanda Armstrong, head steward for the UAW 2865 and a graduate student in rhetoric, said GSIs, readers and tutors are also entering into contract negotiations. Armstrong spoke to a crowd gathered outside California Hall about demands the union has, including a cap on class size, better wages and health benefits for student-workers and an end to discrimination in hiring in the workplace.

“Being a graduate student in the university, I do have a lot of benefits.” said Vreni Michelini, a graduate student in art practice who was a GSI in the fall. “But I also see and I live the struggle in the sense that even though I have two scholarships that’s almost paying for my tuition, I still got to have three jobs to just make it with the rent, food and everything else I have to pay.”

Supporters also rallied behind immigration reform.

“We have a broken immigration system, and there are people in our community who have been deported,” said City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who attended the rally. “We can no longer divide families and use (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) as a way to try to suppress workers’ rights.”

Mitchell Handler covers academics and administration. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @mitchellhandler.