RIVERSIDE -- Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez says she's cancelled plans to give a graduation speech at UC Riverside next month to show her support for a union-organized protest.
The Democrat from Garden Grove notified UCR administrators Thursday that she would be pulling out of the June 12 commencement ceremony to join a speakers' boycott called by the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Local 3299. The union says the action is necessary to spotlight the hardships workers have endured because of state budget cuts.
"My family roots are in organized labor and, in good conscience, I cannot and will not cross the picket line to speak," Sanchez said in a statement.
"I wish nothing but the best for this year's young graduates and hope they will respect my decision to stand in solidarity with my union brothers and sisters," she said.
Last July, the UC Board of Regents approved system-wide furloughs requested by UC President Mark Yudof as a means of containing costs in the face of a roughly $800 million budget shortfall.
Furloughs have varied from 11 to 26 days, depending on a worker's classification, and have amounted to 4 to 10 percent salary reductions. Some UC campuses have also laid off employees.
"These cuts have been devastating for low-wage workers," said Lakesha Harrison, president of AFSCME 3299.
"Layoffs and reduction in hours are only the tip of the iceberg. UC executives are now proposing massive cuts to our retirement," she said. "We may be facing a double whammy -- a depletion of our savings now and a gutting of the income we were counting on for our future."
UC Riverside spokeswoman Kris Lovekin said the university found a replacement to fill Sanchez's slot within a day.
Judy Sakaki, from the Office of the President of UCR Student Affairs, will be delivering the keynote at the June 12 commencement for graduates in art, foreign languages, liberal studies, music and theater.
Lovekin would not comment directly on Sanchez's statement or the boycott, saying only, "It's been a tough year for the state and the University of California (system)."