More than 200 union workers take to UC Berkeley on 1st day of strike

Daniela Cervantes/Staff

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More than 200 UC workers took to UC Berkeley on Monday in a “strike for equality” to protest a forced contract settlement and the alleged unequal treatment of women and people of color.

The strike was hosted by UC’s largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, and it started early Monday morning on Upper Sproul Plaza and lasted until the evening. AFSCME Local 3299 represents more than 25,000 workers in the university system — this strike is part of a three-day statewide effort.

Strikers chanted, “Who’s got the power? We got the power!” and other rallying cries in support of union efforts. Workers marched around Southside while organizing on Upper Sproul Plaza and near the Foothill residence hall.

“UC’s not fairly negotiating our contract,” said Susanne Wiesman, six-year campus worker and AFSCME Local 3299 member. “They tried to implement a contract on us instead of negotiating … completely absurd and completely unacceptable.”

Many university workers are permanent members of the community, Wiesman said. While they work to maintain the campus, according to Wiesman, they are not paid enough and spend more time at work than they do at home.

The UC outsources jobs to third-party contractors who pay up to 58 percent below market rate and rarely offer benefits, according to AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. Many of the contractors, Lybarger added, are nonunion.

“What we want is for the UC to address the growing inequality between the top-paid administrators and the lowest-paid workers,” Lybarger said.

At about 2:45 p.m., the strikers marched west on Bancroft Way — slightly quieter after a lunch break on Sproul Plaza — before marching through the Tang Center, east on Durant Avenue and back to campus.

During the march, a Kiwi Bot drove through the crowd. The marchers booed and kicked the robot before deciding that it did not deserve to be attacked.

The UC has not raised wages to keep up with rising costs of living and housing, said campus gardener and AFSCME Local 3299 member Ivan Casanova. The last time Casanova received a raise, he said, was more than a year ago — he still cannot afford to pay rent and currently lives with his parents, despite working full time on campus.

Casanova said students should notice the power of organizing together with co-workers and the community at large.

“Have faith in the power of organizing,” Casanova said. “There are a lot of problems people try to solve on their own. Some things (are) only solved by mass cooperation.”

Moises Garcia, Oakland resident and member of the Teamsters Local 853 union, said more than 25 Teamsters members attended the AFSCME Local 3299 strike to show solidarity with UC workers.

Some members of the Teamsters Local 2010, which represents UC and California State University employees, were also at the AFSCME Local 3299 strike Monday.

The protest has led to U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, withdrawing from speaking at UC Berkeley’s spring 2018 graduation because of the UC-wide speaker boycott called by AFSCME Local 3299.

Students, Lybarger said, can also help effect change in support of the union.

“The people cleaning your classrooms are holding the line for some of the last middle-class jobs in this state,” Lybarger said. “Students have the power to really help this cause by standing with us.”

Henry Tolchard covers race and diversity. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @htolchard.