UC-AFT holds virtual May Day rally to promote strike readiness pledge

photo of UC_AFT union at a COLA protest
Lisi Ludwig/File
University Council-American Federation of Teachers demonstrators come together to demand a fair contract for UC lecturers and demonstrate their willingness to strike. The rally occurred prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Almost 200 people came together Saturday at a Zoom rally hosted by the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, or UC-AFT, to demand a fair contract for UC lecturers and demonstrate their willingness to strike.

Taking place on International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day, the hourlong event featured speakers from several branches of UC-AFT and included messages of solidarity from other unions. Attendees were encouraged to sign and share a strike readiness pledge, which gained 40 signatures during the event.

“We need you to build this campaign,” said UC-AFT President Mia McIver. “Think of two lecturer colleagues, people who trust you, people to whom you could send this strike readiness resolution, and hopefully two people you could send the strike readiness pledge and get them to sign.”

The pledge was drafted after more than two years of contract negotiations with the university, according to Alison Black, collective co-chair-lecture of UC-AFT San Diego, Local 2034.

Black asked participants to describe how they felt attending the last bargaining session with the UC Office of the President. Responses including “disrespected,” “undervalued” and “outraged” quickly flooded the Zoom chat.

“When I think of how much I have invested in the UC and I think of how little they have invested in me, a dissonance churns in me,” said Mary Schmidt, a lecturer at UC Irvine, during the rally. “I’ve never been evaluated, my wage is well below the poverty line and my husband and I never know if we will have insurance.”

Schmidt and many of the other speakers urged lecturers to take action by joining their local UC-AFT committees and signing the strike readiness pledge.

Leaders of several unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 and the California Labor Federation, voiced their support for members of UC-AFT.

“Going on strike may be the hardest thing you’ve done at work but every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” said Art Pulaski, chief officer of the California Labor Federation, in a video during the rally. “The California labor movement understands, your fight is our fight, we’ll walk the picket line with you and we’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with you.”

Roxi Power, former UC-AFT vice president of organizing, said the UC-AFT strike in 2002 was a great example of different unions and constituencies coming together. She added that while they have been fighting similar battles for a long time, this time feels “different.”

According to Josh Brahinsky, chair of the UC-AFT Contract Action team, UC-AFT has grown substantially in the past few years and there was a newfound resolve to win that could be felt in the room.

“I’m so proud to be here with you, I’m so proud of how far we have come,” McIver said during the rally. “This is a transformational campaign and you are part of building that transformation. When we fight, we win — we are strong together, and we are going to win together.”

Contact Vani Suresh at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @vanisuresh_.