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Labor Update
Taking time out from a faculty/staff reception on the eve of his inauguration, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau addresses strikers in front of International House Thursday afternoon. Birgeneau, sporting union unity buttons on his lapels, was cheered by the crowd for his support of UC Berkeley workers. (Steve McConnell photo) Chancellor Birgeneau addresses strikers

Pickets cheer Berkeley chancellor's remarks as AFSCME stages one-day strike at UC campuses

Picket lines were in place today (Thursday, April 14) at various entrances to UC Berkeley during a one-day systemwide strike by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299. Employees on strike held a noon rally on the steps of Sproul Plaza and spent the morning picketing primarily at the intersection of Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue, where they carried signs, used bullhorns, and made their presence known.

The AFSCME service unit includes custodians, food service workers, bus drivers and groundskeepers. The key issues in the strike are wages, opportunity for career advancement, and the cost of parking, benefits and meals.

About 9:15 a.m., Chancellor Robert Birgeneau met with several dozen protesters at the Bancroft and Telegraph intersection. Wearing a union unity button, he shook hands and spoke to a group of several dozen picketers. "We want to see your salaries increase. We support the workers here," he said, to cheers from the crowd.

Birgeneau emphasized to them the importance of UC's "compact" with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an agreement announced last May between the governor, UC President Robert C. Dynes and Cailfornia State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed. The long-term resource plan is aimed at restoring fiscal stability to the UC and CSU systems, starting in the 2005-06 fiscal year and extending through 2010-11. It provides for annual growth in state funding for UC’s basic budget and enrollment growth in exchange for the university's commitment to accountability in specified areas.

"Ultimately, we need Sacramento — the wages we pay are dependent upon the compact," Birgeneau told picketers. Among the features of the compact, which requires the legislature's annual support, is funding to resume the growth of faculty and staff salaries.

The UC system has sustained major state budget cuts during the past several years, reflecting a net 16 percent decline in state support over a four-year period. The result has been program cuts, fee increases and less-competitive faculty and staff salaries.

The chancellor told striking employees that he grew up in a family that was paid a minimum wage. "I know what it's like," he said. "It's very hard."

The picketers asked Birgeneau if he would encourage the University of California to increase their wages, and he told them he already had. Union contracts are negotiated through the UC Office of the President on a systemwide basis, and negotiations are scheduled next on April 18-19.

Picketers called out, "Thank you!" to Birgeneau after his remarks, and the chancellor told camera crews reporting on the strike, "They [the employees] deserve a salary increase."

The Coalition of University Employees (CUE), which represents clerical workers at UC Berkeley, recently notified the university of its intent to support the AFSCME strike. Other unions did not officially notify the university of their intentions, but some union literature indicated that other represented employees might participate in the strike.

As of midmorning, there did not seem to be significant disruption in the campus's operation. In some areas, there is a planned reduction of services, including a more limited menu at the dining commons. But campus dining facilities remain open, and students are being served. It is anticipated that classes will go forward as usual.

The law protects the right of all individuals to cross picket lines. In previous employee strikes on campus, picketers have been committed to their point of view but respectful of the views of others.

The website newscenter.berkeley.edu/labor will provide up-to-date information about the strike throughout the day.

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