Gloria Steinem, the renowned feminist and political activist, has cancelled her scheduled speaking engagement at UC Davis.
Steinem, who decided to bow out of her appearance to express support for UC service workers, was scheduled to speak at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 16.
The university first received notice that Steinem was reconsidering her agreement to speak on Dec. 16, said Dave Webb, Manager of Speaker Programming at the Mondavi Center. The Mondavi Center office encouraged Steinem to honor her agreement and told her that she could use the podium to express her concerns for the workers, but she cancelled her appearance on Dec. 19, Webb said.
“It’s disappointing because she’s such an interesting speaker,” said Camille Staccavento, director of marketing for the Mondavi Center. “She was pretty well sold so it is certainly a distinct disappointment in terms of dollars.“
All tickets will be automatically refunded by Jan. 12, Spaccavento said.
Steinem is not the first notable speaker to cancel an appearance due to the prolonged UC worker negotiations. Former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and former President Bill Clinton each cancelled a commencement speech at UC Davis and UCLA last spring, respectively.
Lakesha Harrison, President of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents UC service workers, said AFSCME asked Steinem to cancel her appearance because accepting an invitation from UC gives the university undeserved credibility.
“When someone like Gloria Steinem cancels, it’s a powerful statement,” Harrison said. “If [prominent speakers] come on campus, you’re saying it’s okay to treat workers like crap.“
The university has been negotiating with the union for over a year, but the two sides have yet to come to a compromise on wage increases.
UC has proposed 1.5 percent across-the-board increases and a $13 per hour minimum wage by the end of the new contract. The union contends that some workers make “poverty wages” as low as $10 per hour. AFSCME is asking for six to eight percent across-the-board wage increases and a minimum wage of $15 per hour toward the beginning of the contract, according to a letter from California Labor Federation Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski, the appointed mediator of the negotiations.
Pulalski recommended a $14.50 per hour minimum wage by the end of the four-year contract and across-the-board wage increases ranging from three to five percent. UC has not yet agreed to the mediator’s recommendations, indicating that the union would have to make further compromises.
Paul Schwartz, a UC spokesperson, said that state funding is the university’s single largest source of salary funding for campus-based employee groups, which include service workers. As a result, the poor economy and state budget crisis have impacted UC’s ability to meet wage demands, he said.
Even so, the university is offering more than $26.5 million in wage increases and has tripled its offer for wage increases in the first year of the contract from three million to about 12 million, Schwartz said.
“We’ve made numerous compromises to our offers, and we continue to be open to using a mediator to help us reach an agreement, but an agreement requires compromise from both sides, not just the university,” Schwartz said in an e-mail.
Though no deal appears to be imminent, Harrison said the union is eager to return to the bargaining table.
“We’re very ready and determined to meet with UC,” she said.
PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at email@example.com.