AFSCME Stages Demonstration on Library Walk Honoring Civil Rights Anniversary

Occurring across all 10 University of California campuses, employees with the union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 protested on Library Walk against worker discrimination and increasing worker security this past Thursday. The rallies were held in honor of the 50th anniversary of the historical eight-week-long civil rights demonstration in Memphis, Tennessee, after the deaths of two union workers due to unsafe working conditions, which ended with Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his famous “Mountaintop” speech that preceded his assassination.  

Chanting in languages including English and Spanish, “What do we want? Workers rights! When do we want it? Now!” UC employees took to Library Walk on Thursday to address the struggles many face on a daily basis.

AFSCME Local 3299 is the UC system’s largest employee union, representing about 24,000 employees, and works towards securing workers rights and continues to advocate better conditions.

With branches at the university’s 10 campuses, five medical centers, numerous clinics, research laboratories, and UC Hastings College of Law, on Feb. 1, a National Moment of Silence took place with elected officials, sanitation workers, and community leaders to memorialize the legacy of 1968.

On Feb. 1, 1968, the groundbreaking episode in America’s labor and civil rights movement marks the deaths of two AFSCME sanitation workers. Echol Cole and Robert Walker were crushed to death when their truck’s compactor malfunctioned, which sparked the historical 1300 worker strike. Chanting “I am a man,” and tackling issues such as unsafe staffing levels that threaten worker and patient safety, workers wages that don’t keep up with inflation, and the displacement of African American workers, workers back then battled many of the same challenges AFSCME says are still prevalent at the University of California today.     

AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger issued a press release on Jan. 31, 2018 to address the seminal relevance of the movement to current hardships.

“Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King and hundreds of courageous heroes in Memphis risked everything to demand dignity, equality, and respect for working people,” Lybarger said. “This fight goes on today, as UC Administrators seek to finance their secret slush funds, executive pay raises and half-million dollar parachutes for disgraced ex-chancellors with tuition hikes for students and cuts for low-wage workers.”

2018 is marked in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the charter of the University of California — the state’s third largest employee, and the 70th anniversary of UC workers joining AFSCME.

This January, Michael Avant, a patient transporter at UC San Diego Medical Center and executive vice president of the AFSCME Local 3299 issued a statement to the San Diego Union-Tribune on the topic.  

“These are hardly radical ideas. But for far too many working families and people of color, they remain elusive,” he warned. “This is a time to reaffirm our commitment to changing that reality.”

Photo by Stephanie Flores