Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Clinton Cancels UCLA Commencement Address; Refuses to Cross Picket Line

Former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday canceled a commencement speech at the University of California, Los Angeles, because of the lingering labor dispute in which UCLA administrators have refused to guarantee decent wages to staff employees represented by Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The 20,000 workers involved in the wage dispute range from technicians at UC medical facilities to janitors and landscapers.

"While I'm honored to be invited and was really looking forward to speaking at UCLA's commencement ceremonies, I can't cross the picket line," Clinton said. The former president was scheduled to address 4,000 graduating seniors this Friday, but his office said he would not appear. "Due to the ongoing labor dispute, he regrets that he will be unable to participate in commencement this year and he wishes the UCLA graduates the best of luck," Clinton's office said a statement.

Though AFSCME and the university are currently in mediation to negotiate better wages, Union president Lakesha Harrison said that the problem lies with the UC’s priorities, not a lack of resources. The UC administrators admitted that they have the money, but it “would be irresponsible to spend it on the workers,” Harrison said.

Harrison said that massive executive raises and bonuses take the priority away from the workers, many of whom qualify for government aid. “They’re not making the workers a priority. ... They’re not making the patients a priority, and they’re not making the students a priority; they’re making the executives a priority.”

About 20 students and workers began a three-day fast at UCLA today to call for a new contract for UC health care and service workers, and the group presented 1,000 petition signatures supporting former President Bill Clinton's refusal to cross a picket line to speak at the university's commencement ceremony. "I am participating in this three-day fast because I feel that the University of California is creating poverty in our communities," graduating senior David Chavez said. "Costs go up, wages remain the same and these families have to make hard choices on how to survive."

Former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez also canceled a commencement speech at UC Davis scheduled for today because of the labor dispute.

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