Wednesday, May 10, 2006

So we'll march day and night, by the big cooling tower, They have the plant, but we have the power.

Armen invited me to blog on Nuts & Boalts a while back, but I haven’t had much of anything to say until now. So here goes my first post, the Max Power way (which Simpsons fans know is just like the wrong way, but faster!)…

Due to union protests, Howard Dean will not be speaking at graduation this Saturday. There will also be picketers outside the graduation. If the scene at a graduation today is any indication of what it will be like on Saturday, expect your 85-year-old grandma who flew cross-country to see you graduate to have to walk through a line of picketers. It’s tough to say if it will actually affect the graduation ceremony (aside from not having a graduation speaker), but that is certainly a possibility.

Now, please don’t lecture me about the worthiness of the cause, or the necessity of picket lines. I agree with the union about UC workers’ pitifully low wages, and I realize that picketing is one of the few ways the Union is able to gain leverage against the Administration. The Union has claimed that the protest is about the school’s policies, and not meant to punish students, but it’s difficult to see how this does anything but punish students. Picketing graduation doesn’t increase pressure on the Chancellor or anyone else in the UC Administration. The only people this picket will affect are the students and their families. So many Boalt students have worked tirelessly during their time here to support the Union and other liberal causes. And this is how they are repaid? With a picket that will have no benefit to the Union but significant costs to the students?

The worst thing about this is that the Union is purposefully targeting the same students who have been some of their biggest supporters on the UC campus. The student committee that worked so hard to get Dean here in the first place tried to compromise with the Union, but they were unwilling to compromise, and it seems that they went out of their way to target the Boalt graduation.

The fact is, there are certain sacrifices that we all make to go to Boalt instead of a fancy-pants private school. Most of us do this willingly, in part because we value Boalt’s community and its focus on public service. But when we signed up, I don’t think that many of us thought graduation would be one of those sacrifices. It is a day of celebration and there is no reason to turn it into a political device.

There is little doubt that the Administration will ignore this protest. In all likelihood, it will be a net negative to the Union, because many sympathetic students, like myself, will begin to ask why the Union asks us to care for them so much when they care for us so little. So any statement the Union may think they’re making is likely to fall on deaf ears. To not have a graduation speaker is an embarrassment to Boalt. But for Local 3299 to pressure Howard Dean into stepping aside, and to be more concerned with making an inconsequential statement than allowing some of their most ardent supporters to enjoy a hard-earned day of celebration, is just plain embarrassing for the Union.

If you feel strongly about this either way, I suggest you call Local 3299 to express your feelings. 510-844-1160.

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25 Comments:

Blogger La Mitotera said...

I couldn't have said it any better. I am an ardent supporter of unions, but I have to say their decision left me scratching my head. If they were on strike making a sacrifice of their own I would totally support them, but that is not the case here. I feel bad for the 3Ls that worked very hard to make graduation special by getting someone like Dean to be the speaker. The union is being incredibly short sighted on this issue and I wouldn't be surprised if it made students less willing to support them in future actions. I hope people call them and let know what a stupid decision they are making.

5/10/2006 5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dial extension 4 for the Berkeley organizer--let's see if we can fill her voicemail box before she gets back into work tomorrow morning! I'm from a union household and I was an AFSCME member before law school, and I am ashamed of this union and its decision to punish the students who support its cause.

5/10/2006 6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something tells me that it is not the organizer that would make the actual decision to picket the graduation. It is the president that needs to be harassed.

5/10/2006 9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

local 3299 is an autonomous body, so this decision was made the by people here. here's an email address for you: dgrabelle@afscme3299.org

Debra is her name. You should cc this guy Lee at national: lsaunders@afscme.org. he's the exec director to the president.

5/10/2006 9:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

3Ls received this email after Edley's announcement.

Subject: The fight for our keynote

Dear 3Ls,

We want to add to Dean Edley's announcement to share with you what we
have done on behalf of students since we first heard about the picket,
which was about 8 days ago.

It has been difficult to navigate this situation because the underlying
issue is that the custodial workers at Berkeley are being paid poverty
wages. This is a fact and as members of this community, we should do
whatever we can to *effectively* challenge those in power to change this.

With that said, we strongly, strongly believed that AFSCME's strategy
was flawed. We oppose the picket line. Their pickets have only
targeted Democratic elected officials (insert Berkeley joke here).
Essentially, they silenced progressive speakers who would inspire us to
take action and alienated students who have supported their every move.

We offered them much. Along with the Dean's office and DNC, we offered
them a meeting and press conference with Howard Dean. We offered to
read a letter drafted by the union, on behalf of workers, on stage. We
offered to help them pass out literature to every guest.

We were educated and advised by staff and students (to whom, we owe a
great deal of gratitude). We contacted National AFSCME. We worked with
the DNC. We have not finished our writing requirements. We, along with
Dean Harvey and Seema Patel, met with the local union yesterday to offer
them everything again. There were tears and an almost-fight.

They refused our alliance because for them, backing down from this
strategy would send the wrong message to the Chancellor.

While we still disagree with them, the only way to get Gov. Dean back at
this point is to get the Chancellor to offer AFSCME a good faith
proposal to increase the wages of custodial workers. So, if you know
the Chancellor, please give him a call.

Or email him: chancellor@berkeley.edu

Or make a 4 million dollar donation to a fund we want to start at Boalt
for the workers. Maybe we can get to 100% with this new challenge!

We are so, so sorry for all of this. We have much to celebrate. You
guys have been an amazing class and you deserve better.

Prisca Bae and Kawezya Hutchinson
3L Class Presidents

5/10/2006 9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the 3L class is lucky to have advocates such as Prisca, Kawezya, Seema and Dean on their side, who attempted to mediate this situation with such sensitivity, effort and dedication.

That said, however, I think that this strike, and the local union's intransient position should be a wake-up call to all of us at Boalt think of ourselves as labor supporters. This should be a wake-up call not so that we harden our hearts toward the workers' cause, but rather so that we open our eyes.

As Afsme and CUE have agitated for fair wages over the last couple of years, their effort has been meet with little substantive, wide-spread student solidarity, a fact that I have found surprising given Boalt's purported public interesty orientation. I'm not casting stones here--I went to couple of meetings last year and stayed home the day of the strike, but have pretty much ignored the issue since.

Even if you find my characterization of student support for the janitors' cause to be unfair,I'm aware that the perception exists among Boalt support staff that students don;t care about their workplace issues.

Given this, I find the message sent by the local with the strike powerful indeed. It makes sense that that republican speakers are not targeted, since the target of the strike is Berkeley liberals. That we awake from our complacency and come to more meaningfully and consistently support local labor fights in our academic community is a goal of the strikers, and, I think, it is a goal to which all of us should aspire.

That said, I'm sorry that the 3L class is bearing the brunt of this message.

5/11/2006 2:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it true that there were a good number of students that actually crossed the picket line and went to school during the strike last spring?

5/11/2006 3:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What strike last Spring?

5/11/2006 9:00 AM  
Blogger Jungle Cat said...

I'll be the one to go out on a limb.

In the vast majority of cases Unions are bad!!!

Unions have outlived their primary usefulness. When workers first unionized their standard of living was appalling, and their working conditions were downright deadly. While the custodial workers here undoubtedly don't make very much money, it is a simple issue of supply and demand in a world of limited resources.

The university isn't a giant 1915 steel trust making what in todays dollars would be 100's of billions in profits while sucking the life out of its workers.

Every dollar spent on the custodial workers is a dollar not spent on endowing a new professor, or putting up wireless, or funding a mentorship program for minorities. The university has every right to prioritize where its dollars go.

Many of us (Boalt students) complain about all of the injustices of the university, but you can't have it all. If you really want to support the custodial workers work on repealing proposition 13 and all of the other propositions which have substantially limited the discretion of the California state government.

The custodial workers should be ashamed of punishing the students for an unfortunate economic reality. If the picket prevents Dean from speaking which seems a near certainty, I call on all graduation attendees and their families to leave their trash all over Boalt. Don't use the trash cans!!!

5/11/2006 9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 2:37 AM: The issue for me is that the union is NOT on strike and instead decided to use Boalt's graduation as a way to grab headlines at the expense of the students who largely support their efforts. Especially in light of the Hurculean efforts of Prisca,Kawezya, Seema and Dean to still give them a platform I find their tactics idiotic.

5/11/2006 10:26 AM  
Blogger Armen said...

First, I want to thank Max for this well-written and thoughtful post. Also the commenters...great stuff ladies and gents. Second, the 3Ls working on graduation...wow. Above and beyond the call of duty.

Initially I dismissed the dumping trash idea as nothing more a childish typical Jungle Cat reaction. But the more I think about it, the more I really want to do it. There's just been 0 respect on the part of the union for students. NONE!!! I'm surprised they haven't used finals as a leverage. But then dumping trash doesn't send a message to the union but the people who are individually members of the union. And that's not right either. Personally, I'd take a crap in front of the union HQ at this point.

And no, this is not a wake up call for me to start supporting them now. It's just idiocy. And for anyone who doesn't realize what's at stake, we had Gov. Dean lined up, while the main campus gets Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-LA. Nothing against the speaker, but he's no Howard Dean. Furthermore, this would have been the first time a politician from the national stage came to a UC for graduation in a long time. See, here.

5/11/2006 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish Jungle Cat would stop posting here. His stupid and childish posts are especially annoying when we are talking about an important topic.

5/11/2006 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is so lame! I think we should just have a few more our super-star 3Ls speak instead (such as the folks who tried to save graduation). For example, Prisca could tell us how she won "2005 East Bay Party of the Year" or nearly surpassed the 1000 mark on an Evite.

5/11/2006 12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said it, 12:22! The sooner we all get to agreeing on everything the better. I personally like seeing some advocacy for the dark one on occasion, even if the tone is immature.

But please tell me everyone: isn't the purpose of a union strength in numbers, and using those numbers to get what you want? If this picket/strike/whatever gets the union more money, as the 3L reps are urging (hello pipe dream), then does the union give a shit about what image it has with the students? No: it wants more dollars and more benefits. Trying to be nice and cuddly didn't get them anywhere, they might as well play hardball.

If they stand no chance of prevailing and thereby lose their allies, ok, it was a stupid idea. But then again, maybe not: they'll show us they mean business, and the powers that be will grudginly accede to some future demads. Principles and image be damned, unions are there for results.

5/11/2006 12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only result they're getting from me is that if they go on strike again, this time I'll cross the picket line.

5/11/2006 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with 12:49- it would probably be more interesting than any speaker to have an open mike for graduates (and guests) - a few minutes of what you're moved to share about some great memories, something you learned, some constructive suggestions you have for future students or the school. That would be much more memorable, moving, and lead to more action than any imported speaker.

5/11/2006 9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have to assume that these union leaders are acting in good faith. They think that they are doing the right thing, whether we agree with it or not. If they stood their ground after what they were offered...wow...you have to really ponder what they are standing for and how they came to the decision to reject all of those offers. Not using the trash cans further punishes the workers and further pisses off the leaders. It's too bad that they feel that picketing a law school graduation will do any good - it just shows how little respect that the University gives them and how far they have been forced to go in making their point.

5/11/2006 9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What point? That they're paid poverty wages and deserve more? Check and check. Compared to students in other departments, Boalt students have been strong supporters of the unions' efforts for fair wages and conditions. As was noted above, it's as though AFSCME went out of its way to punish the students that have been its strongest supporters. Maybe the Chancellor or the Regents will care that Boalt's Class of 2006 doesn't have a commencement speaker, maybe not. But the affected students definitely care. AFSCME should think of ways to pressure the people who have the power to make change--not force proud parents to cross a picket line to watch their grad cross the stage or leave an empty hole in a graduation program. "Going far to make their point" would mean bird-dogging the Chancellor and Regents at every turn, striking for more than a day, and/or other creative EFFECTIVE ways of affecting those who can change the policies. A union threatening a Democratic politician is not courageous or righteous--it's easy.

5/11/2006 10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My reaction to all of this:

The left eats itself alive!

5/12/2006 12:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is all about power and money. Some have it, others don't.

As a student, I acknoweledge that my interests are often adverse to the union's. I don't con myself into thinking that I ought to have the same set of goals and tactics as union workers.

Also, folks, remember that education is not a force of equality. Education breeds inequality. Maybe learning to read, write, and count puts us all on some basic footing. But access to college and professional schools breeds massive inequality with those who stopped at high school.

I embrace the fact that my education will put me in stead to make much more money than union workers. I don't believe that my education will further union egalitarian goals.

5/12/2006 12:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with 1:55. I rarely attend class, but the next time this particular union strikes, i make a special effort to cross the picket line.

5/12/2006 2:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sad but accurate truth is that custodial workers are totally fungible . Economically they are indistinct from fuses.

Unions are an effective tool for skilled workers precisely because they are not easily replaceable. As Jungle Cat in artfully pointed out, the university has limited resources and if it spends more on an easily replaceable janitor, then it can't attract new tenure proffessors from Yale. It is a zero sum game, and when you play zero sum games those without any specialized skills lose.

5/12/2006 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real problem with living wages is an over supply of unskilled labor, especially in areas that have high costs of living. I'm sorry, but people don't have a right to live in the Bay Area at the expense of everyone else. They should move to Wyoming where the "poverty wage" will do them nicely.

5/13/2006 9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5/13, 9:36 pm:
Whatever. (I don't think most intelligent people need any additional response.)

5/15/2006 12:35 PM  
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