En Español Know Your Rights
Source: Oakland Tribune
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Boycotts UC Berkeley Over Labor Dispute

Robert F.
Kennedy Jr. spoke at an annual event honoring a late leader of the Free Speech
Movement on Thursday night, but the event was held off campus because the
environmental activist boycotted UC Berkeley in support of campus service
workers’ two-year labor battle with the university.

The Mario
Savio Memorial Lecture and Young Activist Award honor Savio, a leader of the
1964 Free Speech Movement, a civil rights worker, a UC Berkeley student and
later a teacher at Sonoma
State University.
He died in 1996 at age 53.

Kennedy,
son of Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, appeared at
the Berkeley Community Theatre instead of on
the UC Berkeley campus as originally scheduled because he was supporting the
8,500 UC service workers who have been in contract negotiations for two years,
according to William Schlitz, political and communications director for the
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299.

"We
are saddened and frustrated that, for the first time in its 12-year history,
the Mario Savio Memorial Lecture cannot be held on the Berkeley campus because of the university
administration’s failure to reach a fair and just agreement with its lowest
paid workers," lecture organizer Lynne Hollander Savio said. "Our
speaker, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has refused to speak on campus until UC
resolves this contract dispute over poverty-level wages for its service
workers."

"Service
workers are an important part of the UC community and we’ve been working very
hard to reach a contract agreement for them with the union," said UC
spokesman Brad Hayward, "We have enhanced our wage offers several times to
reach an agreement, and we hope one can be achieved in the near future."

Over the
past few years, actor Danny Glover, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, former Speaker
of the California Assembly Fabian Núñez and many others also have boycotted the
campus because of the labor issue.

Kennedy,
54, is an environmental attorney, law professor, activist and chairman of the
Waterkeeper Alliance, a group of 182 programs that advocate compliance with
environmental laws, respond to citizen complaints, identify problems in
waterways and come up with solutions.

Kennedy’s
passion for human rights and the environment and anger over the outgoing White
House administration were evident in a 90-minute speech titled "Our
Environmental Destiny."

Named a
Hero for the Planet by Time magazine, he recently wrote "Crimes Against
Nature: How George W. Bush and His Pals are Plundering the Country and
Hijacking Our Democracy."

Kennedy
touched on several environmental-related points during the talk.

Alone on
the theater’s vast stage and in front of an audience of several hundred, he
spoke about protecting the environment, working toward a carbon-free economy,
getting off foreign oil, and protecting the water, land, air and mountains for
future generations.

"The
environment can only be protected under a locally based government. The fishes
don’t vote, the trees don’t vote, and the wildlife don’t vote," he said to
the audience that was a mix of students, aging environmentalists and people who
seemed to just be there to get a glimpse of the political leader and
quasi-celebrity and then leave.

Dozens
listened to a minute of his speech before heading out the door.

Kennedy
said protected environments are the ones with strong democracies.

He went on
to say that the government — or possibly a billionaire — needs to invest $150
billion in a "smart energy grid."

"This
would open up the marketplace," he said. "We have public utility
commissions in 50 states, each with its own rules and regulations. If you have
a solar panel on your roof and your house is producing some extra energy at
some point in the day, you want to be able to sell that energy back and get
market rates."

Same goes
with electric cars, he said: "Plug in your (electric car) while you are at
work, and then sell the energy back.

"We
need to create a marketplace where every American becomes auctioneers and every
home becomes a power plant."

Kennedy
also said the mainstream corporate media are "negligent and indolent"
in their reporting on the environment and other issues, saying the American
people are not getting "news of public importance."

"That
does not mean the slow decline of Britney Spears’ mental health
condition," he said.

Kennedy
said the media are too preoccupied with reporting about actors Brad Pitt,
Angelina Jolie and Tom Cruise to investigate on and report the real issues. One
reason, he said, is people’s insatiable interest in sex and celebrity gossip.

"We
are supposed to be the leaders of free world but we know nothing about the free
world," he said. "A little bit about Britney Spears, but that’s
it."

Those
comments got him a rousing laugh.

This year’s
winner of the Young Activist Award is Julissa Bisono, a 25-year-old workplace justice
organizer for Make the Road New York, a grass-roots organization in New York City working
largely with the low-income, Latino immigrant community, a UC Berkeley official
said.

The annual
event draws big-name keynote speakers. The late columnist and political
commentator Molly Ivins, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author Seymour
Hersh, and Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now program, have
spoken in past years.