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Congresswoman cancels UC graduation speech in response to labor dispute

U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) has decided not to deliver a graduation address at UC Riverside in response to a labor union’s campaign for a speaker boycott at UC’s nine undergraduate campuses.

Sanchez so far is the first speaker to withdraw but others are expected to follow, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents about 20,000 UC workers, including hospital technicians and campus custodians.

UC leaders criticized the union’s move as disrupting a special day for graduates and their families.

In a statement Monday, Sanchez said she would not speak at the June 12 ceremony for UC Riverside’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, which is one of several commencements at the campus. “My family roots are in organized labor and, in good conscience, I cannot and will not cross the picket line to speak. 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,” said Sanchez.

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The union is in a dispute with UC over layoffs and efforts to cut pay in response to state budget reductions. Sanjay Garla, a coordinator for Local 3299, said the union is not asking graduates and families to avoid the ceremonies but wants speakers “not to lend their prestige to the university if the university is going to continue with these cuts.”

Judy Sakaki, the UC system’s vice president for student affairs, will replace Sanchez, according to a UC Riverside spokesperson.

In a recent statement, Dwaine Duckett, UC vice president for human resources, denounced the union’s campaign. “Graduations are about students — their achievements, family support and sacrifices — not the advancement of [the union’s] ideological and political agendas,” he said.

UCLA’s College of Letters and Science invited Gustavo Arellano, author of the "¡Ask a Mexican!” column in the OC Weekly, to address its June 11 commencement. Arellano, a UCLA alumnus, said Monday that he won’t withdraw even though he sympathizes with the workers.

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“I don’t think I, as a journalist, can best support the workers by not speaking when I have a chance to speak about the issue at the very area where those workers work,” he said.

In 2008 prominent Democratic political figures, including former President Bill Clinton, canceled commencement speeches at three UC campuses because of another labor dispute.

larry.gordon@latimes.com


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