Assemblyman Jose Solorio Withdraws as Grad Speaker

In solidarity with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees’ (AFSCME) UC Graduation Speakers Boycott, California Assemblyman and former Student Body President of UCI Jose Solorio withdrew from speaking at this year’s graduation ceremonies.

According to UCI’s Director of Media Relations, Cathy Lawhon, Solorio was anticipated to give speeches on June 11 at the Social Ecology I and Social Ecology II commencements.

AFSCME, which speaks for workers from every UC campus, medical center, and research compound in the state, called for a boycott by the graduation speakers in response to the UC administration applying disastrous cuts to low-wage workers.

The union demands an end to wage and hour reduction, the rehire of laid off workers and the preservation of affordable benefits. According to the AFSCME website, the boycott was a last resort after various meetings with the University of California Regents and administration discussing alternate budget strategies.

The cuts, consisting of reduced hours and salaries, layoffs and outsourced jobs, have severely impacted families of low-wage workers, even resulting in foreclosures, in some cases.

Diego Rivera, who used to be a UCI groundskeeper, belongs to one such family.

“I was laid off in October of last year, and so I am now back living in poverty,” Rivera said. “I support my mother and my little brother, but during the past few months, we have been barely able to pay our rent and bills. Without my support, my family is struggling to survive.”

Nevertheless, the devastating cuts, which save the UC system $7 million according to the UC administration, are dwarfed by the $9 million in executive increases the Regents approved since the cuts were implemented.

On top of all this, UC executives are currently considering detracting from retirement funds, according to Lakesha Harrison, the President of AFSCME Local 3299, the chapter organizing the boycott.

“These cuts have been devastating for low-wage workers,” Harrison said. “Layoffs and reduction in hours are only the tip of the iceberg. UC executives are now proposing massive cuts to our retirement. We may be facing a double whammy – a depletion of our savings now and a gutting of the income we were counting on for our future.”

Solorio is only one of several public figures who have decided to honor the worker’s boycott.

Over the last month, State Assembly Members Ira Ruskin, Warren Furutani and Fiona Ma, along with Author Karen Joy Fowler, State Senator Gloria Romero, and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez have also pulled out of commence ment speeches at several UC campuses.

“I was looking forward to addressing the graduates at UC Irvine,”  Assemblyman Solorio said in a letter sent to Chancellor Drake. “But after speaking with my constituents, I have decided to cancel my speaking engagement. I must stand with the hard working service employees at UC Irvine who are fighting to rise above poverty. I sincerely hope that this conflict can be resolved in time for the upcoming graduation ceremonies. If the workers choose to lift the boycott, I would be happy to speak on campus.”