"What we are seeing all across this country is a war being waged against working people," Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Wednesday.
The Independent senator from Vermont spoke at a rally in Los Angeles, standing in solidarity with about 40,000 University of California (UC) workers who staged a one-day statewide strike after months of failed contract negotiations for pay raises and better benefits.
"I am here today, I should tell you, not as a candidate for president, but as somebody who has spent the last 40 years of his life walking on picket lines with unionized workers," Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination, told the crowd in a 10-minute speech.
— Ari Rabin-Havt (@AriRabinHavt) March 20, 2019
"The University of California is one of the great university systems in the world, but it is not good enough to be a great university," he said. "It is not good enough to have a great hospital or medical center. The University of California must not be a corporate-type employer. The University of California must be a model employer."
"It must be an employer that respects its workers," Sanders argued, speaking in front of UCLA's medical center. "It must be a employer that treats its workers with dignity and it must sit down with its union and negotiate in good faith."
While the presidential hopeful—who has three campaign rallies scheduled for the state this weekend—concentrated his remarks on calling out UC for its "corporate-type" behavior, he also found time to touch on key elements of his 2020 platform.
The senator, who has long fought to make public education more accessible, vowed that under a Sanders administration, "great public universities, like the University of California or the University of Vermont, will become tuition-free."
In terms of workers' rights and economic justice, he said, "If we're going to create an economy that works for all of us and not just the one percent, we are going to have to grow the union work movement and workers are going to have to stand up and fight back."
"If I have anything to say about it—and I expect that I will," Sanders added, "we are going to make it easier for workers to join unions, not harder."
"If we're going to create an economy that works for all of us & not just the one percent, we are going to have to grow the union work movement & workers are going to have to stand up & fight back."
Sen. Bernie Sanders attended and spoke at the UCLA workers' strike rally. pic.twitter.com/n9wYUWUA7y
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The strike was organized by research and technical workers who belong to the University Professional & Technical Employees union, a Communications Workers of America affiliate (UPTE-CWA). They were joined by patient care technical and service workers with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
"I think Bernie's campaign has inspired many of our members to stand up and fight for what they believe in," Jamie McDole, president of UPTE-CWA 9119, said in a statement. "When Bernie talks about 'the top 1 percent,' we've seen it right here at UC—more and more high-paid executives and administrators and suspect contracts with ties to the regents while workers get squeezed harder and harder and the students and patients suffer."
"Eighty percent of research and technical employees leave within five years," McDole told Los Angeles Magazine. "Eighty percent, because of the way the university treats us, because of the wages, because of the cuts, because they understaffed and overworked all of us, and that's got to stop."
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), another 2020 presidential candidate, turned to Twitter on Thursday to express support for the UC workers who went on strike:
— UPTE-CWA 9119 (@UPTECWA) March 21, 2019
Proud to have marched with @AFSCMELocal3299 and @UPTECWA this morning! And plan on continuing to do so for as long it takes until the @UofCalifornia bargains in good faith and provides fair contracts #UCfortheMany #UnionStrong #Strike4Equality pic.twitter.com/aES0kzj6lZ
— UCLA Union Coalition (@uclaunionstrong) March 20, 2019
— KBB (@TRAILSANDWAYS) March 20, 2019
— AFSCME Local 3299 (@AFSCMELocal3299) March 20, 2019
What good is a university that doesn’t pay its workers for the labor behind the research it celebrates? We fight for higher education that benefits everyone under its auspices — from lab techs to students. (Oh and it should be free, too) #UPTEStrong #UCForTheMany pic.twitter.com/CzbGfWD64f
— DSA Los Angeles (@DSA_LosAngeles) March 21, 2019