UC Workers Rally for Increased Benefits Contract
by Ben Tolksdorf


Westwood – Upwards of 600 demonstrators rallied outside UCLA Medical Center April 3, demanding what the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME, representing 20,000 UC patient care, service, and technical employees) has been asking of the University of California for over seven months—a wage step system with a $15 minimum wage, adequate health care benefits for employees and their families, decent retirement benefits with pension guarantees, affordable parking rates, and represented career work.

AFSCME’s pleas for a fair contract go back at least four years, and in the last seven months their bargaining team has rejected proposals that did not guarantee proper compensation for all workers. AFSCME’s demands remain unmet.

Supporters of AFSCME Local 3299 began canvassing the corner at Westwood Boulevard and Le Conte Avenue around 2:30 in the afternoon, chanting in unison, “No Justice, No Peace! No Contract, No Peace!”

Local 3299 represents low wage workers on ten campuses and five medical centers, over 500 of which serve UCSB as Custodians, Food Service Workers, Groundskeepers, Building Maintenance Workers, and Student Health Workers.

Hundreds of workers and their families, clergywomen and men, elected representatives, community members, and students from several UC campuses (including UCSB) comprised the body of supporters.

Just after 3 p.m., demonstrators convened along Le Conte Ave. and with sound system listened as Judy Chu of the California State Board of Equalization chastised the University’s offer of a 30 percent wage increase for service workers; which, besides being well under market wages (for the same employment), is also much less than proposed wage increases for UC executives, 39 percent.

Assemblyman Lloyd Levine voiced similar support for workers and reproved the UC, saying “wages such that [workers] can’t afford basic necessities” are unacceptable ones.

Union representative Nikki Keagan wrapped up the microphone session with calls for “education with dignity.” The demonstration became mobile as protesters streamed down Westwood Blvd. toward Wilshire Blvd. as police patrols cordoned off an entire intersection.

By 4:30 p.m. the mass of demonstrators coated three corners of the intersection, while 35 or more remained seated in the intersection. Despite Los Angeles Police Department officials declaring their presence “unlawful assembly,” the protesters stayed put in solidarity. Civil disobedience inevitably led to arrests, and the LAPD arrested all of the nonviolent protesters who occupied that intersection.

The same rally cry was heard Thursday on the campus of UC San Francisco, where police arrested 46 students and employees of the campus’ medical center after the protesters remained seated in the middle of Parnassus Avenue.

The convergent demonstrations came on the eve of the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. It was on the night of April 3, 1968 that Dr. King, descending on Memphis, Tennessee to lend support to AFSCME striking sanitation workers, delivered the immortal “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.

One Clergyman, evoking King’s same sentiment in Los Angeles, said over the microphone that “We believe in the dignity of workers, we believe in the dignity of work.”