Once Again, Birgeneau Subs for Absent Speaker

Contact Vincent Quan at [email protected]

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In a repeat of last year’s commencement convocation ceremony yesterday, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau once again spoke to graduating seniors while cars honked in support of the UC union picket line demonstrating outside the Greek Theatre.

Birgeneau was selected to be the keynote commencement speaker after film star Danny Glover announced last week that he would not cross the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 picket line until the university increased custodian wages.

Birgeneau spoke to an audience filling approximately one-fourth of the theater.

During his welcome and remarks, Birgeneau directly addressed the concerns of the union members demonstrating outside the theater, saying picketers acted too quickly and without a complete understanding of the situation.

“The principle of increased salaries for our lowest-waged workers is not the issue. I am insistent that all of the $8.5 million (in state-allocated funds) be distributed fairly,” Birgeneau said. “If we taught you well, you would know effective advocacy must be based on facts.”

Parents attending the ceremony voiced mixed feelings toward the picket line outside the theater, with some saying they found the demonstration to be rude and unfair for graduating seniors and others claiming it was a typical example of Berkeley activism.

“I think it is an injustice to the students,” said Carol Richina, a parent attending the ceremony. “I thought that it was unfair for (Danny Glover) to promote the interests of the picketers over the students.”

But others at the ceremony said they enjoyed the picketing, as they felt it added excitement to the ceremony.

“I don’t think it detracted from it,” said Teague Savitch, a graduating senior. “As the chancellor said, it just would not be Berkeley without it.”

Demonstrators said their decision to protest during the commencement ceremony was made in an effort to increase awareness for custodian concerns.

“I think it will have a huge effect,” said Gabriel Bollag, a UC Berkeley sophomore, who demonstrated at the event and is a member of Students Organizing for Justice in the Americas. “Everyone going into the ceremony will see us. People are getting used to our presence.”

Two days ago, 24 students from different campuses protesting on behalf of custodial workers were cited after a sit-in at the Richard C. Blum Center for Developing Economies. Many of the students who had protested outside of the center on Tuesday participated in the picket line.

“We do not want to bother students’ graduation,” said Teodora Gonzalez, a custodian who works at Unit 1. “We respect them, but we are here because we need (UC) to hear us.”


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