As graduation day approaches, a number of University of California commencement orators have canceled their speeches in support of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ protest of salary reductions.
UC Berkeley African American studies professor Ula Taylor, who was scheduled to speak at UCSB’s commencement ceremony next month, is the latest scholar to call off a speech. Taylor is among six prominent lecturers — including speakers at Cal, UC Riverside and UC Santa Cruz — who have abrogated their appearances due to the UC-wide worker union boycott.
According to AFSCME’s Executive Vice President Julian Posadas, more cancellations will be announced this week.
“Some of the speakers … have not [yet] responded,” he said. “The goal is to ask community leaders, politicians and guests not part of the UC system to refuse to lend their names to the UC while the executive chair is making these decisions.”
Posadas also said students and AFSCME supporters will collaborate to picket each UC graduation ceremony.
“[We are] asking students to understand the issue and let Chancellor Yang know that they stand in solidarity with the workers,” Posadas said.
The efforts are part of a nine-campus boycott that objects to the UC administration’s decision to cut the salaries, retirement benefits and work hours of low-wage university employees.
Union workers have also voiced concerns that the top CEOs at UCLA’s Medical Center have received salary increases at a time when students are faced with tuition hikes and union employees are challenged by wage cuts.
However, UC Office of the President spokesman Steve Montiel said AFSCME misrepresented the information.
“There have been performance rewards [inclusive of] AFSCME employees,” Montiel said. “While most of the UC community took salary reductions under the furlough program, AFSCME employees got raises and their leadership did not allow them to participate in the program.”
Additionally, Montiel said the union’s decision to boycott UC commencements is unfair to graduating students.
“Their actions caused speakers to withdraw and are disrespecting the students and their families,” he said.
Despite Taylor’s abrupt cancellation, Christian Villasenor, UCSB’s Assistant Dean of the Graduate Division, said he is not upset with the decision.
“Unfortunately [she] decided not to be our commencement speaker,” Villasenor said.
“We certainly understand and respect her decision to do that. The university has always been supportive of our AFSCME workers and the Chancellor has … worked closely with them in the past.”