Employees and contract workers for the University of California system are getting a raise.
The minimum wage for the UC system's employees will be increased to $15 an hour, officials announced this week, and labor leaders are adding this victory to a string of recent wins in the battle for an increase in workers' pay.
Ian Lovett of The New York Times writes that the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted to raise the minimum wage in unincorporated areas of the county, a move which had already been approved for the City of Los Angeles in May.
This means the UC system will be the first university system in the nation to voluntarily raise the minimum wage as high as $15 an hour. Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California and former Secretary of Homeland Security, stated:
"This is the right thing to do — for our workers and their families, for our mission and values, and to enhance U.C.'s leadership."
The state minimum wage will be raised to $10 an hour in 2016, but most of California's 88 cities have not yet made the move. At UC's 10 campuses, the increase will be phased in over two years for approximately 3,200 employees, with the $15 an hour wage being put in place in October 2017 for those who work a minimum of 20 hours a week.
This same rate, or more, will be paid to people who work for contractors, most of whom have been underpaid for years, says Todd Stenhouse, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest employee union at the school.
The cost increase will be paid for by "auxiliary enterprises" like parking garages, medical centers, and bookstores and not from student tuition or state tax dollars, says Dianne Klein, a University of California spokeswoman. Opponents of the increase say this is not true and ultimately students, who have faced numerous tuition hikes, will bear the financial burden.
This decision comes at the same time the labor unions' national "Fight for $15" campaign has seen major cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles raise their minimum wage above state and federal levels. The announcement also came as university regents consider a 3% wage increase for 21 senior administrators.
The university announced that the change will affect hourly employees including custodial, food service, bookstore staff, lab assistants, and student workers. Klein said the number of contract workers who will receive the raise is much larger than the number of university employees.
But not everyone is praising the increase.
"UC recognizes that there is a problem at the university about poverty wages – the fact that people are working at the university and not making enough to live on," union President Kathryn Lybarger said. "Doing this doesn't actually solve the problem."
Susan Svrluga, reporting for The Washington Post, writes that since the system is an extremely large employer, falling in behind only federal and state government workforces, the decision will also have an impact on the politics of establishing a fair minimum wage.
"Through its education, research and public service missions, the University of California's students, faculty and staff have made us into a world-renowned institution," Napolitano said in a statement. "And our community does not exist in a vacuum. How we support our workers and their families impacts Californians who might never set foot on one of our campuses."