By John Wildermuth
Low-end University of California workers and contract employees will be getting a pay raise to $15 an hour by late 2017, with an initial boost to $13 on Oct. 1.
"This is the right thing to do for our workers and their families," UC President Janet Napolitano told the university system's regents Wednesday morning. "It is the right thing to do, given the mission and values of our public university. And it is the right thing to do to enhance the university's leadership role."
The pay increase is tentatively expected to cost the university an additional $14 million a year. UC would be the first university in the country to set a $15 hourly minimum wage.
Napolitano's announcement received quick support from labor and many Democratic politicians who have been working to boost the state's minimum wage, which is scheduled to rise to $10 an hour on Jan. 1.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom quickly called on the California State University system to follow suit. "As a trustee -- I am urging @calstate to do the same -- #FightFor15," he wrote in a tweet.
But support for the minimum wage increase was far from unanimous, with Republican legislators arguing that it's hard to justify a major pay increase just months after Napolitano argued that the UC system desperately needed more state money to avoid cutting enrollment and raising tuition.
"This is not Robin Hood, in that the money being spent is not from the rich, it's from students who go deep into debt to invest in their future," Modesto Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, the GOP leader, said in a statement. "This action will result in even higher costs ... at a time when UC is already struggling to maintain affordability and student access."
Only a handful of UC's 195,000 employees, mostly students working part time in places like residence halls and bookstores, will be be getting a raise, said Dianne Klein, a spokeswoman for the UC system.
"About half of our workers are unionized and already make much more than the minimum wage," she said. "We anticipate only about 3,200 employees statewide who work at least 20 hours a week will be affected."
University of California Campuses to Raise Min. Wage -- StartClass
But the new rules, which Napolitano dubbed the Fair Wage/Fair Work plan, also include thousands of contract workers not directly employed by the various schools. Outside workers on construction projects, counter workers at on-campus fast food restaurants and those who sweep up at the various UC hospitals are among those who will have to be paid at least $15 an hour in 2017.
The new wage rules "will have a far greater impact with our contract workers," Klein said. "We're also toughening our wage controls and safeguards to make sure those contract workers are properly paid" by their employers.
The wide range of people and companies doing contract work for the university system means the new minimum wage will extend deep into communities across California, to the dismay of many in the business community. The California Chamber of Commerce, for example, has opposed efforts to boost the minimum wage in the state, arguing it will make the state less competitive in its efforts to attract, retain or expand businesses.
"The university should be teaching engineering, not spending student dollars to practice social engineering by limiting who campuses can do business with," Olsen, the Republican Assembly leader, said in her statement.
Napolitano's announcement about the state's third-largest employer will provide a huge push to the growing effort to boost the pay for California's lowest-paid workers. San Francisco, for example, already has agreed to increase the $12.25 minimum hourly wage to $15 on July 1, 2018, and Mountain View also is looking at a $15 minimum by 2018.
In Los Angeles, the City Council voted in May to raise the city's hourly minimum to $15 by 2020, but a workers' group has plans to circulate a ballot initiative that would increase it immediately.
The $15 minimum wage has become a rallying cry for labor groups, who argue that workers can't live on anything less in much of the country. But that's a huge jump when the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and hasn't risen since 2009.
In California, the hourly minimum now is scheduled to rise from the current $9 to $10 on Jan. 1, but SB3, a bill authored by state Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco and co-sponsored by San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting, calls for an $11 minimum in 2016, rising to $13 in 2017. The bill is making its way through the Legislature.
"I applaud UC for a long overdue increase in the minimum wage for its hardest working and lowest-paid workers," Ting said in a statement.
There is no guarantee Gov. Jerry Brown will sign Leno's bill if it makes its way to his desk. In 2013, Brown agreed to increase the minimum wage to $10 only if the change didn't take effect until 2016.
(c)2015 the San Francisco Chronicle