By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
Thirteen protesters were arrested Friday during the opening of a new $18 million UC Berkeley building housing a center to fight global poverty.
The opening drew former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose speeches were at times drowned out by noisy union protesters outside.
The new Richard C. Blum Hall will house the Blum Center for Developing Economies, associated with the school's most popular minor, Global Poverty and Practice.
The building's opening angered University of California workers who complained the university system is ignoring the economic needs of its own workers and students. The protesters were asked to leave the event four times, and when they did not they were arrested, a spokeswoman said.
Blum, a UC regent, is married to Feinstein.
During Blum's speech, a pair of protesters appeared on a ledge above the ceremony area and started shouting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, UC greed has got to go," and hung a banner that said "Working families deserve a better UC."
Referring to the protesters outside the ceremony who were shouting and beating drums, Feinstein, while introducing Shultz, said, "Some of the acoustics here remind me of my days as mayor of San Francisco, and I don't miss them."
The union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was protesting because a center to fight poverty on the UC Berkeley campus is hypocritical when workers and students are being pushed into poverty by UC policies on tuition, pay and pensions.
About 40 union members yelled and beat drums on Hearst Street throughout the opening ceremony.
"What's problematic is it's hypocritical for Blum to be bankrolling a center like that when he is promoting poverty in his own backyard," said Katheryn Lybarger, a UC Berkeley gardener and union spokeswoman. "For low-income university students, all the fee increases put an education out of reach. Blum is supporting changes to the pension plan that will drive low-income UC workers back into poverty."
Lybarger said custodians retiring now from the UC system will get $1,000 a month in pension benefits, but a new proposal will lower that to $700 a month.
"Salaries of UC service workers are comparable to and sometimes higher than similar positions elsewhere," said spokeswoman Leslie Sepuka. "Their complaints are especially unfair considering their most recent contract included $64 million in wage increases at a time when others in the university had their salaries reduced by as much as 10 percent."