UC workers union calls for speakers to boycott UC commencements

A group of students in caps and gowns hold up green shirts in the middle of their graduation ceremony.
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The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Local 3299 has called for speakers to boycott their UC speaking engagements amid ongoing labor disputes over outsourcing and “illegal labor practice.”

The call for the boycott is the latest step in a series of struggles between the UC system and the union. AFSCME Local 3299, the branch of the union that represents UC workers, staged a strike April 10 and has alleged that the UC system has used illegal labor practices — including the use of “intimidation tactics,” according to a union press release from April 16.

According to UC spokesperson Claire Doan, AFSCME Local 3299’s allegations are an attempt to justify an additional strike this year.

“UC believes that AFSCME’s labor practice charge is nothing more than a blatant attempt to justify a fourth strike in under a year and their disrespectful decision to call for speakers boycott, which only hurts students and their families,” Doan said in an email.

AFSCME also called for the boycott of commencement speakers in April of last year, resulting in U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’ withdrawal from her commencement speech at UC Berkeley. The 2018 boycott was also followed by a three-day strike in reaction to the university’s decision to impose union contract terms.

On March 25, AFSCME filed an unfair labor practice charge alleging that the UC system has “illegally intimidated and violated the rights of workers who’ve gone on strike in protest of outsourcing and growing income inequality at UC,” according to a March 26 press release from AFSCME.

According to Doan, AFSCME’s call for a boycott is a strategy for “undermining” and “exploiting” commencement ceremonies.

“AFSCME leaders can try to spin their alleged reasons for demanding a speakers boycott, but their actions — including four disruptive strikes in less than a year and a refusal to truly negotiate — make clear their self-interested agenda,” Doan said in an email.

AFSCME Local 3299 represents about 24,000 employees throughout the UC system, according to the branch’s website. The union largely comprises workers in patient care, custodians and other service workers.

AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger commented on the call for a boycott in an April 16 press release from the union.

“The University of California has used intimidation tactics to keep workers from protesting over outsourcing and income inequality instead of negotiating in good faith,” Lybarger said in the press release. “We do not tolerate bullying. If invited speakers feel the same way, then they’ll honor this boycott of UC events.”

Contact Ben Klein at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc‏.