The fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour gained momentum in California after the University of California System (UC) on July 21 announced that it will increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The raise, which affects 3,200 UC workers, will be phased in over three years. The UC minimum wage increases to $13 an hour on October 1, then to $14 an hour 12 months later in 2016, and finally to $15 an hour on October 1, 2017.
“This is the right thing to do — for our workers and their families, for our mission and values, and to enhance UC’s leadership role by becoming the first public university in the United States to voluntarily establish a minimum wage of 15 dollars,” said UC President Janet Napolitano.
But thousands of workers providing services on UC campuses and health centers won’t be receiving the raise because they work for outsourcing contractors.
Napolitano said that UC would step up its monitoring and compliance efforts of its contractors in an attempt to get contractors to pay decent wages.
But Kathryn Lybarger, president of AFSCME Local 3299, which represents 22,000 UC workers, said that Napolitano’s proposal doesn’t go far enough.
“We are encouraged to hear that (President Napolitano) recognizes that there is a problem,” said Lybarger. “That said, any proposal that does not guarantee equal pay for UC subcontractors is not good enough.”
According to Lybarger, UC like other comparable public institutions is relying more and more on private companies to provide essential services such building maintenance, food service, and custodial service.
As a result, what were once stable jobs that provided decent benefits have been turned into low-wage, dead-end jobs.
Since 2009, said Lybarger, UC has added 9,000 students and 12 new facilities, but the number of full-time UC employees who provide services to these students and maintain these facilities has declined.
To fill this need, UC has turned to private companies that in many cases make their profits by paying poverty wages with few if any benefits.
Many of these jobs are described as temporary positions when in fact they are permanent.
“These workers are not temporary,” said Lybarger. “Many have worked at UC for years, some for as little as half of what their UC employed peers make and for few benefits.”
Most of these workers, who provide vital services but are paid poverty wages, are immigrants or people of color, said Lybarger
Lybarger said that AFSCME has a record of fighting discrimination at UC and would continue to do so. That fight includes extending the minimum wage increase to all UC workers whether they work directly for UC or for a private contractor.
“UC has to turn the page by supporting equal pay for contract workers and by ending this permanent outsourcing of staffing needs to poverty wage employers,” said Lybarger. “Until (it) does, we will not stop fighting.”
Lybarger said that a bill pending in the state legislature would go a long way toward ending the abuse of contract workers on UC campuses.
SB 376 would raise wages and benefits for UC contract workers to the same level as UC workers in comparable positions.
It passed the Senate and has been reviewed favorably by two committees of the General Assembly.
But its passage is in question because it is opposed by UC and by Gov. Jerry Brown.
In May, AFSCME confronted President Napolitano about her opposition to SB 376.
At a UC Regent’s dinner in a posh downtown San Francisco dining facility, members picketed outside.
Some were able to enter the building where the dinner was being held.
They delivered 7000 letters calling on President Napolitano to support SB 376 and handed her a package of Ramen noodles, “all that contracted out workers can afford to eat on UC’s poverty wages,” said an AFSCME flyer.
UC has complained that paying a living wage to contract workers would be too expensive.
But the question of expense doesn’t seem to concern UC when it comes to executive salaries.
The Sacramento Bee reports that UC paid former UC President Mark Yodof $546,000 in 2014, the year after he resigned from his position.
The Bee also reports that 445 UC executives and others hold high-paying positions were paid $500,000 or more in 2014.