University of California Will Spend Millions to Raise Its Minimum Wage

The U.C. system is the state’s third-largest employer.

The University of California will raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour.
National Journal
July 24, 2015, 8:28 a.m.

Cali­for­nia’s third-largest em­ploy­er just gave its work­ers a raise.

The Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia on Wed­nes­day an­nounced it will bump min­im­um wage for em­ploy­ees and con­tract work­ers to $15 an hour.

It will be­come the first pub­lic-uni­versity sys­tem in the coun­try to have such a high min­im­um wage. But the de­cision didn’t hap­pen in an isol­ated ivory tower.

U.C.L.A. — the sys­tem’s largest school and one of its most highly re­garded — sits in Los Angeles County. L.A. County, which hap­pens to be the na­tion’s most pop­u­lous, just agreed to raise its min­im­um wage to $15 an hour in un­in­cor­por­ated com­munit­ies by 2020. The city of Los Angeles passed a sim­il­ar pro­pos­al earli­er this year, and fur­ther north, voters in San Fran­cisco ap­proved a meas­ure to gradu­ally raise the city’s min­im­um wage to $15 an hour.

While U.C. Pres­id­ent and former Home­land Se­cur­ity Sec­ret­ary Janet Na­pol­it­ano said in a state­ment that rais­ing the min­im­um wage is the “right thing” to do, it’s also polit­ic­ally smart.

The state’s Sen­ate ap­proved a bill to in­crease the min­im­um wage from $9 to $13 an hour by 2017, and labor act­iv­ists have re­peatedly cri­ti­cized the U.C. sys­tem for fail­ing to pay liv­ing wages to work­ers. The uni­versity sys­tem is also tak­ing heat for op­pos­ing a bill that would re­quire it to veri­fy that con­tract­ors of­fer em­ploy­ees com­pens­a­tion and be­ne­fits com­par­able to what U.C. em­ploy­ees do­ing sim­il­ar work get. Rais­ing the wage is a pro­act­ive, feel-good move that makes the uni­versity sys­tem look good. It also won’t cost that much money.

U.C. spokes­wo­man Di­anne Klein said the in­crease will likely cost about $14 mil­lion per year, and will come mostly from so-called aux­il­i­ary en­ter­prises like the book­store and park­ing lots in­stead of tu­ition or taxes. She said it would af­fect about 3,200 work­ers, many of them stu­dents who work in the book­stores or res­id­ent halls. Oth­er cam­pus work­ers, in­clud­ing teach­ing as­sist­ants, are uni­on­ized and already earn­ing a high­er wage.

The $14 mil­lion price tag is, “in the scheme of things, not a lot of money.” — U.C. Spokes­wo­man Di­anne Klein

The $14 mil­lion price tag is “in the scheme of things, not a lot of money,” Klein said. The sys­tem has an op­er­at­ing budget of $26 bil­lion and a payroll of $12.6 bil­lion.

The in­crease will ap­ply to em­ploy­ees who work at least 20 hours per week, in­clud­ing con­tract work­ers. U.C. will raise the min­im­um wage to $13 an hour by Oc­to­ber, $14 the fol­low­ing year, and $15 in Oc­to­ber 2016. The liv­ing wage for a single adult in Cali­for­nia is $12.34, mean­ing all U.C. em­ploy­ees should be earn­ing a liv­ing wage with­in a few months.

Be­cause only people work­ing at least 20 hours per week qual­i­fy for the in­crease, work-study stu­dents, who are pro­hib­ited from work­ing more than 20 hours per week, will not be­ne­fit.

While Klein called the fact that the tim­ing of the an­nounce­ment aligns with L.A.’s in­crease “co­in­cid­ent­al,” she ac­know­ledged that the sys­tem has fielded a num­ber of con­cerns about sub­stand­ard con­tract-work­er con­di­tions, such as a lack of be­ne­fits and low wages, and wanted to be sure work­ers were paid fairly. Along with the in­crease, the U.C. sys­tem will launch a new phone hot­line for con­tract work­ers, such as cus­todi­ans and land­scapers, to file com­plaints.

After the state and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments, the sys­tem is the largest em­ploy­er in Cali­for­nia. Nearly 200,000 em­ploy­ees work at 10 cam­puses, five med­ic­al cen­ters, sev­er­al labs, and oth­er loc­a­tions.

Na­pol­it­ano, she said, “felt we need to be a lead­er.”

Re­cep­tion to the an­nounce­ment has been gen­er­ally pos­it­ive, with en­dorse­ments from top White House of­fi­cials and oth­er law­makers.

But the Re­pub­lic­an lead­er of the Cali­for­nia As­sembly, Kristin Olsen, has voiced con­cerns that rais­ing the min­im­um wage should not be a pri­or­ity while the sys­tem struggles to keep tu­ition af­ford­able.

“This ac­tion will res­ult in even high­er costs on stu­dents and par­ents, at a time when U.C. is already strug­gling to main­tain af­ford­ab­il­ity and stu­dent ac­cess,” Olsen said in a state­ment.

Yet ad­voc­ates hope the an­nounce­ment will give mo­mentum to the statewide push for a high­er min­im­um wage and for oth­er ma­jor state em­ploy­ers to fol­low suit. After Na­pol­it­ano’s an­nounce­ment, Lt. Gov. Gav­in New­s­om took to Twit­ter to call on the Cali­for­nia State Uni­versity sys­tem to join U.C. in rais­ing its min­im­um wage.

While pro­ponents of a high­er wage may have to wait a while for that an­nounce­ment, they’re rev­el­ing in the fact that thou­sands of U.C. work­ers are set to bring home hefti­er paychecks by Oc­to­ber.

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