UC workers demand answers

January 28, 2009

ON JANUARY 16, approximately 50 members of my union, AFSCME 3299, and our supporters, stormed the private business office of millionaire Richard Blum.

As chair of the Board of Regents of the University of California (UC), he has the power to give us a contract that would begin to improve the poverty wages that most of my fellow service workers earn--96 percent of us are income-eligible for some form of welfare.

We have been without a contract for a year, and received our last pay raise in October 2007. Management has cried "budget cuts" while refusing to meet our demands for wages we can live on, but they somehow found $14.5 million last year for bonuses and salary increases for top executives.

Blum was not in the office, but he was reached by phone in Washington, D.C. Rather than talk with us about ending poverty for workers in the UC system, he chose to call the police and then turn off his phone. Nineteen of us were arrested when we refused to leave his office.

A letter circulated by the UC Office of the President later that afternoon reflected how freaked out management was by this action, which came on the heels of visits to other regents' homes and offices earlier in the week by unionists around the state.

While Blum won't see us, I did see him--this morning on television, during Barack Obama's inauguration. As Sen. Dianne Feinstein's husband, Blum got to be part of Michelle Obama's inaugural escort.

Seeing my boss as a member of the party ushering in "change" made it screamingly clear to me where this change will come from: not from the people at the top, but from working people standing up and demanding it. Sí, se puede!
Kathryn Lybarger, Berkeley, Calif.

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