Union workers rallied at UC San Diego’s Thornton Hospital Thursday as part of actions across the state protesting University of California spending policies labor officials say hurt low-wage workers and students.
AFSCME Local 3299 rallied at the hospital at noon. Among the issues they’re raising are pay increases for high-ranking leaders, severance pay for chancellors and tuition hikes and alleged “slush funds,” the union said.
The protests — which took place in San Diego, Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside, Santa Barbara and San Francisco — marked the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker, AFSCME sanitation workers in Memphis who were crushed to death on the job.
“What occurred 50 years ago, the deaths of these two men, inspired workers to stand up,” union spokesman John De Los Angeles said. “We chose Feb. 1 for the day for our picket because today, 50 years later, we’re still fighting those same issues.”
A 2017 state audit uncovered $175 million in off-the-books money UC officials had set aside while pushing for tuition hikes and appropriations from the Legislature. UC President Janet Napolitano characterized the undeclared surplus as part of a reserve for contingencies and outlying expenditures.
The union criticized the university for its use of “golden parachutes.” Former UC President Mark Yudof received $546,000 in retirement pay and extras from the UC system in 2014 — a year after he stepped down. According to published reports, almost three dozen former UC employees each received more than $300,000 in pension benefits in 2016.
The UC Board of Regents is slated to consider a system-wide 2.5 percent tuition hike in May. Students were hit with a 2.7 percent increase last year.
De Los Angeles said the hikes are a hard pill to swallow in light of this combination of financial moves, which hits students and low-wage workers hard.
“It’s hard for the public to accept that reasoning when we see such wasteful and unethical spending at the top,” he said.
The UC president’s office in a statement did not address this spending and instead outlined its pay and benefits policies for the workers the union represents.
“UC has offered AFSCME fair wage increases, quality health benefits, excellent retirement benefits and additional professional development opportunities,” the statement said.
A man in his 50s at the Berkeley protest sustained injuries after he clashed with police, De Los Angeles said. A video posted online shows the man begin held on the ground by several officers.
De Los Angeles described the man’s behavior as peaceful prior to the incident. He said demonstrators were responding with a march on California Hall, where the chancellor’s office is located.
There were no reported incidents as part of the San Diego demonstration.
The union represents more than 24,000 service, medical and administrative employees at the UC campuses, clinics and research laboratories, officials said.
–City News Service