Capitol Alert

UC raising minimum hourly wage to $15

From left, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Gov. Jerry Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano listen to students speak during a UC Regents meeting in San Francisco last year.
From left, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Gov. Jerry Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano listen to students speak during a UC Regents meeting in San Francisco last year. Associated Press file

The University of California will raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next three years for all employees, including part-time and contract workers.

Under a plan unveiled Wednesday at the university’s Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco, mandated hourly pay will increase to $13 this October, then by another dollar over each of the next two years, for any employee hired to work at least 20 hours per week. That will put the university well above the state of California, where the rate is set to rise to $10 per hour next year.

The policy comes amid the national “Fight for $15” campaign, led by labor unions, that has seen major cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles hike their minimum wage well above state and federal levels. On the same day, a wage board in New York recommended an increase to $15 for the state’s fast-food workers, who have been at the forefront of the movement.

Vice President Joe Biden was also in Los Angeles to campaign for raising the minimum wage. Earlier this week, Los Angeles County followed the city’s lead and agreed to boost its hourly rate to $15 by 2020.

UC President Janet Napolitano, the former secretary of homeland security under President Barack Obama, said the raise was “the right thing to do for our workers and their families.”

“It’s the right thing to do to enhance the university’s leadership role,” she added, noting that UC is the first public university system in the country to set its minimum wage at $15.

The announcement came as regents considered a 3 percent raise for 21 senior administrators, including nine campus chancellors, which is expected to be approved Thursday.

UC estimates that the minimum wage change will affect about 3,200 hourly employees throughout the system, including custodial, food service and bookstore staff, lab assistants and student workers. The university employs more than 195,000 people throughout its 10 campuses, five medical centers and other locations.

By expanding the policy to include contractors, the impact will be felt even more broadly. New service contracts that the university enters into will include the minimum wage provision and other working-condition standards, addressing union complaints that some workers have been poorly treated by third-party companies.

“We wanted to plant the flag in the ground and say, ‘This is not acceptable,’ ” UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said.

Though she could not provide an exact figure, Klein said the number of contract workers who make less than $15 per hour is “many times larger” than the approximately 3,200 university employees.

Praise for the plan immediately rolled in from top Democratic politicians, including U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a member of the regents. Both thanked UC on Twitter.

“The #FightFor15 has reached @UofCalifornia and I’m very glad that workers will move up to $15 within three years,” Newsom tweeted, urging California State University to do the same.

But Assembly Republican Leader Kristen Olsen worried that students would end up footing the bill for the pay raise.

“It is concerning that UC would implement this proposal just after spending an entire year arguing they do not have the funds necessary to keep tuition flat and enroll more California students,” she said in a statement.

She also slammed UC for extending the policy to private contractors: “The University should be teaching engineering, not spending student dollars to practice social engineering by limiting who campuses can do businesses with.”

Klein said the majority of affected employees work in auxiliary services or self-supporting enterprises such as the UC medical centers, which would pay for the minimum wage increase themselves. She said it will add an estimated $14 million per year to UC’s approximately $12.6 billion payroll, though the university anticipates that contractors will pass on additional costs.

“The bulk of this is non-state funded,” she said. “It is not as though we are taking the money we assume we are getting from the state and giving it to minimum wage workers.”

Early reaction from employees was mixed.

AFSCME Local 3299, which represents about 23,000 custodians, cooks, gardeners and other workers, called the plan a “marginal step forward.”

“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.”

She said the university should hire all of its lowest-level employees so that they can earn a retirement and health benefits, rather than outsourcing many of them to temporary contracts that create a “permanent underclass” of workers.

One UC Irvine professor expressed concerns on Twitter that he would have to cut the number of student researchers in his lab if his grants did not cover the pay raise.

Lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would boost California’s minimum hourly rate to $13 by 2017. It passed the state Senate last month and is now working its way through the Assembly.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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