The University of California system is portrayed as a highly esteemed and incredibly diverse institution, devoted to the educational advancement of their students and the betterment of society as a whole. In many ways, this is true.
But there is more to the story than that. In a recent study conducted by the UC system itself, it was found that female workers outnumbered male ones 2:1, meaning that the overwhelming majority of UC employees should be paid roughly 82 cents to the male dollar. However, in a recent union study, titled “Pioneering Inequality,” it found that the average female workers starting salary was $2 less per hour than her male equivalent. In that same study, it was reported that both African American and Latinx workers earned roughly 20 percent less than the white male worker.
The highest paid UC employees (coaches, doctors, and the highest in the administrative chain) are paid nearly $1 million a year (several UCLA coaches make waaayyyy more than that), while the starting salary for service workers in the UC system is as little as $15 an hour. Fifteen dollars an hour is not enough to live on… for anyone, anywhere, in the U.S.
However, at one point it was, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is the very union which instituted that minimum wage years ago. Now, they’re protesting the wage gap once again, as the times have changed and the UC policies haven’t. AFSCME is a nationwide group with over a million members, originally organized in a small Wisconsin town. AFSCME is known for their strong organization tactics and have a history of powerful strikes and walkouts. The last UC strike they participated in was just four years ago, which resulted in increased wages and benefits for workers.
The unfair UC wages and lack of benefits led to a California-wide strike, which took place a couple of weeks ago, resulting in cancelled lectures and walkouts across the state. The strike was a direct response to the UC system’s failure to provide adequate wages and working standards.
Ironically, the first I heard of the strike was through a complimentary email from UCD itself, informing me of its existence and its promise that school will proceed normally. However, I was not able to learn much from my peers around me. “Union stuff” was muttered on more than one occasion. So here’s the real breakdown:
After digging deeper, I found that that “union stuff” referred to the UC’s cutting workers benefit programs. The UC system has a history of attempting to side step strikes, by hiring non-union associated workers, in order to pay them much less, with little trouble.
On Monday, May 7, nearly 53,000 hospital workers went on strike across all UC campuses, and in the following days nurses joined the picket lines, in sympathy. Of the roughly 53,000 hospital workers, over 10,000 are University of California employees, mostly based in medical or health centers. AFSCME represents more than 24,000 of these said employees. These union members were specifically demanding a 6 percent wage increase, an end on health-care premiums, and job security — a stop to contracting out jobs for which union members are trained.
The UC system released a statement regarding the strike: “AFSCME leaders are demanding a nearly 20 percent raise over three years — twice what other UC employees have received. Labor is the largest single expense in the UC’s budget, and AFSCME service workers are already paid at or above market rates.”
The lack of coverage regarding both the strike and the specifics of AFSCME’s demands is concerning. The reality is that the majority of those who work here, who make our college experience what it is, are significantly underpaid and underrepresented. It is essential to the wellbeing of those who are employed by the University of California system, to be given just benefits and wages, as they are the people who make our university great.