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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Video shows alleged UC Davis employee attack AFSCME 3299 strikers in October

Pressure placed on administration to act decisively following release of video

During the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299’s three-day strike last fall, a truck drove close to the picket line and an altercation ensued between an alleged UC Davis managerial worker and picketers near the Tercero Dining Commons, according to video footage. The altercation took place at approximately 6:25 a.m. on Oct. 25, 2018.

A video of the incident was released on Facebook by The United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) on Dec. 5 alongside a demand letter that requested action by the UC Davis administration. The letter emphasized the need to preserve safety for strikers and students who support union efforts.

The letter reported that “an individual aggressively attempted to drive his truck through the picket line as he repeatedly honked to scare the picketers.” The individual was apparently seen making a phone call and a short while later a second car, a UC Davis pick-up truck, arrived.

“The individual driving the UC Davis pickup truck came driving full speed towards the picket line with his truck,” the letter stated. “This UC Davis pickup driver nearly ran us over, using his vehicle as a weapon which forced us to scramble and run to avoid being severely injured.”

The driver exited his vehicle, according to the letter, “to attack and assault students, workers, and AFSCME Local 3299 representatives.” When a student called 911, the pick-up truck driver returned to his vehicle and left the area.

The video shows the alleged attacker, a middle-aged male, wearing what appears to be an official work shirt with “Facilities Management, Utilities” printed on the back. The man argued and wrestled with the picketers in the video. An angry exchange ensued between the man and the group and, at one point, the alleged attacker picked up a wooden stake from a broken picket sign and threatened the strikers.

On Dec. 13 at 3:30 p.m., in response to the incident and the USAS demand letter, an estimated 40 AFSCME 3299 members and UC Davis students held a protest in the chancellor’s office at Mrak Hall. The protesters delivered a set of demands regarding the Oct. 25 incident and the union’s ongoing contract negotiation.

The workers gathered into a circle in the office and an opening in the center allowed union representatives to speak with a university official who came out to meet them. The official later called Chancellor Gary May via cell phone and he spoke on speakerphone with the protesters. The chancellor, the official and the protesters later agreed to a follow-up meeting on Dec. 18 to discuss the demands.

Melissa Blouin, the director of news and media relations at UC Davis, did not respond to requests for the name of the specific administration official who met with the protesters on Dec. 13, a statement regarding the Dec. 13 meeting or the results of the Dec. 18 meeting.

Blouin did provide The California Aggie with an email from Chancellor May in response to the incident addressed to the Cross Cultural Center.

“Our campus has launched investigations into the incident described in your email,” May wrote. “We have turned video footage over to the Yolo County District Attorney for their review and consideration of legal actions that could be taken.”

May also added that the UC Davis Compliance Office is managing an official administrative investigation of the matter.

“We will update the campus on these as appropriate,” May wrote.

It was unclear, however, whether the statement was in direct response to the USAS’ set of demands or in response to a separate demand regarding an investigation of the incident.

Yeimi Lopez, an AFSCME 3299 organizer and union member, was involved in the incident. She spoke specifically about the Dec. 13 organized action.

“We had a supervisor attack the picket line violently,” Lopez said. “He assaulted and injured staff and students and myself. He put his hands around my neck. And then I was able to break the chokehold with my hands. Some of the workers blocked him and just blocked him away from me.”

When asked how she was doing, Lopez said she was “doing better.”

Regarding the status of the alleged attacker from the video, Blouin said via email that “the matter is still under investigation, so we have nothing further to say at this time, other than what the chancellor said in the message that we shared with you.”

Following the organized protest on Dec. 13 in the chancellor’s office, protesters assembled outside of Mrak Hall.

Refilwe Gqajela, an organizer with AFSCME 3299, spoke about what she saw as the result of the meeting.

“We got an acknowledgement of the incident, an acknowledgement of our statement and acknowledgement of the demands and what happened,” Gqajela said. “For a very long time, the isolation and the continued violence from the incident was the silence of the university, and the silencing that students and workers have felt.”

Gqajela discussed how the protest was associated with the picket line incident and the contract negotiation.  

“The visit today [is due to] the incident that happened in Oct. 25, it is now Dec. 13,” she said. “Students released their statement and the demand over a week ago now. Before that, there was a larger system-wide student demand that spoke to the incident here and also to larger student worker issues.”

Gqajela then spoke about a statement the chancellor made regarding the incident.

“The chancellor, prior to today, released a statement acknowledging the student statement,” Gqajela said. “But it was an empty statement — an empty statement that did very little for the students and workers who feel unsafe to feel safe. It did very little to address the incident in and of itself and the violence that happened.”

Zach Freels, the lead organizer for AFSCME 3299 for UC Davis’ campus and medical center, said the alleged attacker from the video has resumed work.

“We know that two weeks ago this individual was working, he was seen on site at the wastewater treatment center continuing to work as if nothing happened,” Freels said. “We have had employees who were terminated for as little as dirty looks, and this guy engaged in an assault of students, employees of the university and AFSCME staff. The university has failed its obligation to hold people accountable for acts of workplace violence.”

According to Freels, the video was released as an act of direct action to “escalate the situation” after “the university failed to hold him accountable” and “failed to meaningfully respond to student demands.”

Though the incident has been referred to the Yolo County district attorney’s office, Freels believes there is more the university can do regarding the incident.

“Not every instance of workplace violence involves a district attorney,” Freels said.
“When it does arise to that level, in every instance that I am aware of in the time I have been here with this organization, the university has placed that person on administrative leave and almost always, they ended up with a termination.”

Written by: George Liao — campus@theaggie.org


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