Kamala Harris cancels UC Berkeley commencement address; supports strike

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Tens of thousands of University of California workers started a three-day strike on Monday, which will impact all the campuses and the people who get services from them.

A picket line already formed early Monday in front of the UCSF Parnassus campus, home to a medical center, in San Francisco. The workers on strike include pharmacy technicians, respiratory therapists, patient care assistants, custodians and security workers. In addition, UC nurses and technical workers are also striking in sympathy.

For patients, that means hundreds of medical procedures have had to be postponed or rescheduled. A UC spokesperson told KTVU on Monday that 12, 410 cancer treatments,  surgeries, outpatient procedures and radiology appointments had to be canceled at UCSF alone over the next three days.

A spokesperson from California Senator Kamala Harris' office issued a statement saying she canceled her commencement address at UC Berkeley this weekend due to the workers' strike. 

"Due to the ongoing labor dispute, Sen. Harris regretfully cannot attend and speak at this year's commencement ceremony at UC Berkeley. She wishes the graduates and their families a joyous commencement weekend and success for the future. They are bright young leaders and our country is counting on them."

This protest is organized by workers and their union, AFSCME Local 3299, which represents about 25,000 employees in the UC system.

They held a similar demonstration and picket line in February. These workers have been in contract negotiations with UC representatives for more than a year with no agreement.

A UC spokesperson said they are offering a 3 percent pay raise over four years and that anything more than that is unreasonable. The pay raises the union has asked for, according to UC, equal around 20 percent a year.

“AFSCME leaders are demanding a nearly 20 percent pay raise over three years — twice what other UC employees have received," UC Office of the President Claire Doan said in an email. "The university cannot justify to taxpayers such an excessive raise, no matter how much we appreciate our service workers… A disruptive demonstration will change neither UC’s economic situation nor the university’s position on AFSCME’s unreasonable demands”

The union countered that they are the lowest paid in the system and that UC wants to raise the retirement age as well as their health care premiums.

The union says at issue is not only increased wages. But the union wants a guarantee from the UC system that those food service, security, and custodial jobs won't be outsourced to an outside company that would pay minimum wage with little to no benefits.

This strike is going on at all UC campuses across the state and is expected to last through Thursday.