University of California’s largest employee union leads statewide protests today that include picketing this morning and a rally this afternoon at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange.
The aim of the demonstrations, which are also being held at UC facilities in Merced, Riverside, Berkeley, La Jolla, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco and Santa Barbara, is to protest “persistent inequality at UC, and recent university proposals that would disproportionately hurt low-wage communities of color,” as well as to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of two sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, according to organizers.
On Feb. 1, 1968, Echol Cole and Robert Walker huddled in the back of their sanitation truck to seek shelter from a storm. Suddenly, the truck’s compactor malfunctioned, trapping Cole and Walker and crushing them to death.
The tragedy triggered a strike of the city’s 1,300 sanitation workers, who had warned the city about dangerous equipment but were ignored. It is considered a seminal moment in the history of America’s labor and civil rights movements.
“Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King and hundreds of courageous heroes in Memphis risked everything to demand dignity, equality and respect for working people,” says Kathryn Lybarger, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 3299.
“This fight goes on today,” Lybarger continues, “as UC Administrators seek to finance their secret slush funds, executive pay raises and half million dollar parachutes for disgraced ex-chancellors with tuition hikes for students and cuts for low-wage workers.”
Picketing begins at 11 a.m. and the rally is at 12:30 p.m. in the Healing Garden of the medical center at 101 The City Drive South in Orange, where there will also be a moment of silence for Cole and Walker.
In other local news related to the proposed UC tuition hike, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) on Wednesday called on UC Board of Regents to focus more on students and funding inefficiencies. She spoke as a member of the Assembly Committee on Higher Education during an oversight hearing on the UC board.
“Significant structural reforms to both the UC Board of Regent and Office of the President are required to improve accountability, reduce bloated budgets and restore credibility,” said Quirk-Silva, whose office pointed to an report from last April by the State Auditor, which revealed the UC Office of the President used misleading budget practices, paid extraordinarily generous salaries and interfered with investigators.
The auditor also reported that UC President Janet Napolitano’s office had spent more than $2 million on such wasteful items as theater tickets, luxury hotels and limo rides. Napolitano “admits to wrongfully interfering with an audit called by the state legislature,” Quirk-Silva’s office notes.
The proposal being considered by the UC Regents would increase in-state tuition by $342, or 2.7 percent for 2018-19. It follows a $336 tuition increase imposed by the Regents last year.
“California students and hard-working families deserve better financial management from our prestigious educational system, and not tuition hikes,” says Quirk-Silva, whose 65th Assembly District includes Anaheim, Buena Park, Cypress, Fullerton, Garden Grove, La Palma and Stanton.
The Cal State University system, whose campuses include Cal State Fullerton in Quirk-Silva’s district, is also considering a second straight year of tuition hikes. That proposal would raise in-state tuition for undergrads by $228 in 2018-19. For in-state graduate students, tuition would jump $432.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.