Former California State Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez was a no-show at the June 11 School of Education commencement ceremony.
Núñez canceled his appearance with a day’s notice due to ongoing labor disputes between the University of California and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees who are trying to negotiate a contract agreement for patient care technical workers and other service employees.
“We do feel that it’s unfortunate that the union has pushed for these cancellations, since they have no bearing on negotiations and only serve to disrupt the commencement ceremonies for students and their families,” said Nicole Savickas, a representative of the UC Office of the President.
Leticia Garcia-Prado, a medical assistant at the Cowell Student Health Center since 2001 thinks that Núñez’s no-show along with other public figures’ refusal to cross the picket line did have a significant impact.
“They showed their support for workers who are people that not only make their universities and medical centers the great institutions that they are but all of us workers also are part of our communities that make California the diverse state that it is,” said Garcia-Prado.
Professors from the School of Education as well as Dean Harold Levine respect Núñez’s decision to cancel his speech.
“The ceremony itself went very well, providing a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduating students,” said Levine in an e-mail.
Rebecca Ambrose, assistant professor of education, said none of the graduating students she spoke with mentioned the absence of the well-known speaker.
UC campuses throughout the state saw speaker cancellations due to AFSCME issues as well. Former President Bill Clinton refused to speak at a UCLA graduate school ceremony earlier this month, along with Robert Kennedy Jr. who was to speak at UC San Diego.
“I think that this small crisis is a great opportunity for the students and the rest of us to reflect on what kind of society, and what kind of university, we really want to have,” said Cristina Gonzales, a professor of Spanish and education at UCD.
Other public figures who refused to cross the picket line at UC campus ceremonies include retired General Wesley Clark, congressional representatives Henry Waxman and Hilda Solis as well as state representatives John Laird and Fiona Ma.
For UC healthcare worker Garcia-Prado, who is involved with the bargaining between AFSCME and the UC, Núñez’s absence was another part of the long process that has been going on since August 2007.
“UC is a very prestigious institution and its workers should not live in poverty because UC will not pay us wages we can live from,” she said.
A UCD medical assistant receives an hourly wage between $13.56 and $16.26, while other popular medical facilities such as Kaiser Permanente have starting wages of $18.81. Garcia-Prado said that some workers are forced to work two or three jobs, or to start looking at other facilities who offer better pay.
“This hurts the patients and the students,” she said. “They do not get the full care and service they need and deserve,”
Both sides continue to work towards a resolution and say they would like to reach an agreement in the near future.
“Our bargaining teams continue to work hard to present the union with package proposals that are responsive to their demands, and we appreciate that the union has agreed to return to the bargaining table,” Savickas said.
ANGELA RUGGIERO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.