Dem senator cancels commencement speech to support strikers

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) announced Monday that she is canceling her commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley to stand in solidarity with a local labor strike.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the senator’s office issued a statement explaining that Harris will not speak on campus as a result of an “ongoing labor dispute.”

[RELATED: Loyola grad students demand reparations for injustices]

“Due to the ongoing labor dispute, Sen. Harris regretfully cannot attend and speak at this year’s commencement ceremony at UC Berkeley,” the statement read. “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,” the office added.

Sign-toting strikers in green shirts have been gathering at sunrise at University of California schools across the state, demanding higher wages and financial benefits for all university system employees.

The strikes are spearheaded by the American Federation of County, State, and Municipal Employees Local 3299 (AFSCME 3299), the University of California’s largest employee union with a total of about 25,000 members, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

[RELATED: Union activists block traffic in Berkeley to ‘honor MLK’]

In a statement to the Associated Press, UC system spokeswoman Clair Doan argued that workers’ wages are well above the market rate, and that a “disruptive demonstration” in favor of a 20 percent increase in wages over the next three years “will change neither UC’s economic situation nor the university’s position on AFSCME’s unreasonable demands.”

The organization, which mostly consists of custodians, security guards, gardners, other service workers, and medical staff, has also sparked criticism from some students who are preparing for final exams.

“When protesters are preventing myself and other students from getting adequate sleep by waking us up at 5:30 in the morning during the most stressful time in the semester, we are going to be less supportive of that cause,” UC Berkeley freshman Daniel Frise told Campus Reform

“My friend told me she thinks she would’ve done better on her final yesterday had she not been woken up so early, and I fear the same can be said for many students in my dorm,” he added.

[RELATED: Yale grad students hold pseudo-hunger strike over union contract]

The Associated Press reported on Saturday that the UC San Francisco Medical Center was forced to reschedule 800 appointments for cancer patients and move 300 surgeries in anticipation of the strike, while UCLA Health has hired temporary workers to ensure that it can continue providing health care services during the walkout.

UC Berkeley announced the change to its commencement program Monday, noting that Chancellor Carol Christ will replace Harris as the keynote speaker. 

“We are writing you today to inform you of a change in the program for our May 12 campuswide commencement ceremony,” the university wrote in an email. “Due to a UC-wide speaker boycott called by AFSCME Local 3299, Senator Kamala Harris has chosen to withdraw as our keynote speaker.” 

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