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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Food Service Worker Protest in Front of Vanderhoef's Residence Revealing

Last night in front of Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef's residence, a number of students gathered in support of Sodexho Food Service Worker's campaign to become university employees with full university wages and benefits. So far, the Chancellor has failed to negotiate in good faith and at a meeting last week refused to allow union representatives to come and speak on behalf of the food service workers. Instead Vanderhoef and Vice Chancellor Dennis Shimek, met with two students and a food service worker--two of whom complained about disrespectful treatment and intimidation tactics.

As far as protests go, this one, planned at the last minute and held during finals week was not huge. Certainly not in comparison with some of the recent protests held on May 1 and May 23, 2007. Nevertheless, the twenty-five or so students who gathered on Tuesday evening in front of Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef's residence served an important purpose. The Chancellor was holding his annual Luau and had invited many university folks and community leaders--most of whom ignored or were indifferent to the efforts of the protesters to pass out fliers. Some were downright hostile.

More interesting was perhaps the reaction of leaders in this community--some of whom have expressed open support for the food service workers. For instance, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk had sent a letter to the chancellor in March urging him to negotiate with the students in good faith. She was also supposed to be meeting with the Chancellor in hopes of pressuring him to resolve the meeting. Given that, it was surprising to see the Assemblywoman walk right past the protesters, along with her husband Bruce Wolk, and say nary a word.

Davis City Councilmember Don Saylor exchanged pleasantries with me, however, he did not attempt to talk to the students despite his earlier letter of support. Nor did Councilmember Ruth Asmundson. Nor did former Mayor and current Judge Dave Rosenberg. Nor did Congressman Mike Thompson's representative Eli Faircloth.

There was but one exception to that list--County Supervisor Mariko Yamada. Ms. Yamada walked up to the protesters, offered words of support and hugs, and made the determination that she should not go in, in light of the protest. The students talked her into going inside, however, it was clear from the student's reaction that her support was very meaningful to them. Nor was the fact that several other leaders in the community had walked right past them without a word lost upon them.

Vice Chancellor Dennis Shimek at one point intentionally and deliberately walked right through the marching picketers--and for really no apparent reason as he walked through some grass in some open space and then returned to the Chancellor's residence. I caught up to him at the park, and told him that my mother had taught me never to walk through a picket line.

He asked me, "why is that?"

I responded, "it is the ultimate sign of disrespect."

He said, "they were in the path, I had the right to walk there, so I did."

He could have easily walked around them. He was attempting to intimidate them and bully them, just as he had up in his office during negotiations. This is a university employee's disdain for students who were exercising their lawful right to assembly.

Finally, what perhaps disturbed me the most was the treatment of the protesters by the UC Davis police. There were at least six police officers there for a pretty small protest. But that's understandable given the size of previous protests. What concerned me was that the police were taking pictures of the protesters.

These students were not breaking the law. This hearkened me back to a time before I was born when the FBI would routinely photograph and keep files on protesters for the purpose of intimidation and a whole lot more. These are the tactics used by the university police against their students? What are they going to do with the pictures?

The picture above is an officer taking a picture of me taking a picture of him. Now I don't know exactly what the officer thought he was going to accomplish by taking of a picture of me. But he can tell his bosses, he got a shot of...

---Doug Paul Davis reporting