Thousands of University of California Service Workers Set to Strike

Service workers across the University of California system are expected to go on strike on Monday. They're demanding higher wages, affordable health care and job security. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Service workers at University of California campuses across the state are planning to strike early Monday morning over alleged wage inequality. Workers are demanding increases in pay, affordable health care and job security.

Among the thousands expected on picket lines are UC custodians, food service workers, security guards and parking attendants. Nurses and other patient care staff from UC hospitals are set to begin sympathy strikes on Tuesday.

Todd Stenhouse, a spokesman for ASFCME Local 3299, the union that represents UC service workers, says the system's low-wage workers can't keep up with the state's rising cost of living.

"You have these $35,000, $40,000-a-year career custodians do the most physically demanding jobs at UC, [and] UC wants to pay even less," Stenhouse said.

This is happening, he says, while University of California executives continue to make more money. ASFCME released a report last month that found that the pay disparity between the highest-paid UC employees and the median worker grew between 2005 and 2015, and that top administrator salaries went up 64 percent during the same period.

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Stenhouse says that women and people of color are typically the most adversely affected by this type of wage disparity. "What you have now is a university, a public university, that is literally becoming a monument to inequality in the state of California," he said.

In a statement, UC spokeswoman Claire Doan called the union's demands "unreasonable," and noted that labor is the "largest single expense in UC's budget." The statement said the three-day planned walkouts will be a disruption for students on campus, many of whom have final exams scheduled for this week.

UC Berkeley sociology professor Michael Burawoy, who expects to join picket lines this week, says some faculty plan to give student-protestors a chance to make up missed exams.

"We are definitely very sympathetic to the strike," Burawoy said, "and many of these students, of course, come from a similar sort of background as the workers who are going to be striking."

But some students, like conservation resource studies major Grace Ferguson, say they're more focused on finals than on walkouts.

"I really enjoy that this campus is really involved in a lot of social movements", Ferguson said, "but I really am frustrated when they make going to school harder."

The strike is expected to continue through Wednesday.

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