Columbia student representing Students United Against Sweatshops (USAS), which seems to be a lot of the same people as SWS but under a different name, showed up at the Diana Center today to protest Sherry Lansing’s receipt of the 2014 Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award at the Athena Film Festival. Lansing is a former actress and CEO of Paramount Pictures until she stepped down in 2004. She is currently a Regent at the University of California.
USAS members want to concentrate on what hides beneath this pristine public image: while UC has been negotiation with 22,000 workers over working conditions and wages, Lansing has remained silent. Low-wage workers at UC earn an average salary of $36,000 per year. Many are women, people of color and immigrants. Two UC workers travelled to New York to take part in the protest.
The protesters’ flyer read, “Sherry Lansing: Show your leadership and stand up for low-wage workers.”
Bearing signs and chanting, “Hey Lansing, step off it. Put people over profit,” the students entered LL1 of the Diana Center at 6:30 pm, then crowded with well-dressed event attendees. The event was invitation-only. Chatter buzzed among the crowd as a student read a prepared statement in which she acknowledged Lansing’s achievements, but questioned if she deserved the award. Then a UC worker took the megaphone and spoke about her experience.
The students intended to direct questions to Lansing, but she was nowhere to be seen at the time of the protest.
“We just want to raise awareness about who’s being awarded and question if that lives up to the Athena Film Fest’s ideals,” a protest organizer said. “Lansing really cares about her public image, and that’s why we’re doing this.”
USAS Press Release:
For the past 20 months, 22,000 service workers represented by AFSCME 3299 have been stonewalled in contract negotiations with the University of California. Their average salary of $36,000 makes 99% of them eligible for public assistance, yet the UC administration argues that workers are paid too much “by market standards,” though the only standard they point to are the poverty wages of the fast food industry. Meanwhile, UC’s tuition has increased dramatically by 82% since 2008, alongside a massive rise in the number of managers.
Furthermore, according to OSHA, 1/5 of the food servers is injured on the job-a 20% increase in the last 6 years-because UC refuses to hire additional workers despite massive campus expansions.
Sherry Lansing is an important and respected member of the UC board of regents, but for too long she has evaded her responsibility to ensure that AFSCME workers can expect a fair wage and safe working conditions. As an Athena Film Festival lifetime achievement award recipient, she cannot claim to represent “women’s leadership” while ignoring the needs of UC workers. We, students of Barnard and Columbia, therefore, stand in solidarity with the AFSCME 3299 workers in their negotiations for a fair contract and demand that Sherry Lansing do the right thing, supporting them in their fight and living up to the higher ideals of the Athena Film Festival.