UC service workers and graduate students go on strike

Sureya Melkonian/Staff

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Service workers, patient-care workers and graduate students throughout the UC system went on strike all day Wednesday.

Marching to the beat of cascading rain, nearly 400 peaceful strikers wound through Berkeley and the campus Wednesday morning, blaring music and chanting for justice. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which called for the protest in response to alleged use of intimidation tactics  by the UC to prevent workers from participating in a May strike, was joined by the UC student-worker union United Auto Workers Local 2865.

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, as of 4 p.m., about 28 percent of AFSCME staff had not shown up to work. Classes were canceled in many departments, but because not all graduate student instructors participating in the strike reported canceling their classes, neither the campus nor the UC system could give an exact estimate of the overall academic impact of the strike.

“A lot of us believe that we need to show our students the importance of the work here,” said Beezer de Martelly, a GSI in the music department who went on strike.

About 11 a.m., protesters gathered in an assembly on the steps of Wheeler Hall, where graduate students affirmed their solidarity with AFSCME workers. They sang “Solidarity Forever” and “This School is Your School” — to the tune of “This Land is Your Land” — in a moving picket around California Hall.

AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger said intimidation of workers is ongoing. According to AFSCME 3299 spokesperson Todd Stenhouse, Wednesday’s strike was rooted in a fundamental need for workers’ voices to be heard.

The university said it did not intimidate employees in May. According to UC spokesperson Shelly Meron, the university only asked workers whether they would be participating in the spring strike in order to ensure proper staffing, per protocol.

In September, AFSCME filed a complaint with the California Public Employment Relations Board charging the UC Board of Regents with unfair labor practices. The state board has scheduled hearings regarding those charges for March, Meron said.

Although AFSCME stated Wednesday’s protest stemmed from concern about unfair intimidation, protesters buzzed with a variety of troubles with the university, ranging from dissatisfaction with wages to the desire for safer staffing levels. According to campus custodian Arnold Meza, short-staffing at UC medical centers has put patients at risk.

“We’re here for the students and the patients,” said Meza, who arrived at the rally at 2 a.m. and planned to stay until 10 p.m.

Student health and dining services were impacted at UC Santa Barbara, Meron said. The campus’s dental clinic had to cancel all scheduled appointments, and some students had to wait longer for medical services.

According to Cal Dining, dining services at UC Berkeley continued as usual. Gilmore said that campus operations went forward “reasonably well” despite staffing reductions.

East Asian languages and cultures professor Jann Ronis held office hours off campus in solidarity with the strikers. Math professor Alexander Coward took over several of his Math 1A sections after two of his GSIs went on strike. He said he made the decision based on his commitment to teaching students, not his views on the strike.

Both Lybarger and Stenhouse expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support, despite the weather.

“As I watched the rain pour down today and I watched this, people getting soaking wet, cold, making their voices heard,” Stenhouse said, “I felt really good about the future of the university.”

Staff writer Daniel Tutt contributed to this report.

Contact Melissa Wen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.