A couple of weeks ago, I was at a backyard party in SanTana (no, not that type of party) when a gentleman sat down with me and talked for about 20 minutes. I had met him before but found out then that he was a representative for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union that represents the University of California's service and patient care workers.
The man told me that the UC's workers are getting screwed, and that AFSCME wanted all the scheduled commencement speakers for the UC's campuses to boycott the graduation ceremonies to draw attention to their plight. He asked that I pull out of giving UCLA's commencement speech on June 11; I respectfully declined. “Is it okay if my boss gets in contact with you?” he asked. Of course.
I got the response last week, in the form of a form letter signed by AFSCME 3299 president Lakesha Harrison.
You can read the contents here. The only personal flair that whoever Harrison asked to write this letter put in was the date of UCLA's graduation. Oh, and the letter sent to me also had a full-page picture of a UCLA custodian, talking about his struggles to feed the family with recent salary cuts.
My family knows all about salary cuts: my father's been unemployed for over a year because of those clean-truck regulations in the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles that screwed over thousands of immigrant big rig drivers, and my mother hasn't had a full-time job since the Teamsters sold the hundreds of workers they represented at the old Hunt-Wesson cannery in Fullerton down the river in the late 1990s. So, I do stand with those UC workers and I know their struggles. But to ask a reporter to not speak, especially when he has the opportunity to criticize the very cuts they're protesting against? Seems counter-intuitive to me.
I'm sure the other speakers will probably honor the call by AFSCME to not cross the line, especially politicians like Assemblymember Jose Solorio (invited to speak at a couple graduations at his alma mater, UC Irvine) and be part of that boycott “legacy.” Good for them! What I'm looking forward to is what, if any, criticism I receive for my decision. Scab? Vendido? That's a typical flame war for me 'round here…