UC student workers upset they won't get $15 minimum wage

Part-time student workers at the University of California are up in arms that the highest minimum wage in the country will not apply to them.

The UC system employs 195,000 people and is the third-largest employer in the state of California, which currently has a minimum wage of $9 per hour. Under a plan announced by UC President Janet Napolitano in July, the system will be the first public university in the country to adopt a $15 minimum wage. The university system estimates that the wage hike will affect about 3,200 employees.

The system's "Fair Wage/Fair Work" plan aims to raise the minimum wage gradually to $15/hour over three years. The plan applies to full-time employees and contractors only.

Left out of the new minimum wage plan are employees working fewer than 20 hours per week, many of which are students participating in work-study programs.

The UC Student-Workers Union (United Auto Workers Local 2865) represents 12,000 student employees, many of them graduate teaching assistants. Union president Robert Cavooris toldThe Daily Nexus at UC Santa Barbara that excluding part-time student workers, “doesn’t really seem to show that they care about all of their workers.”

The union has fought with Napolitano in the past, most recently when they carried out a two-day strike in April 2014 and threatened to strike during finals before negotiating a new four-year contract. The contract called for yearly consecutive raises of 5%, 4%, 4%, and 3%. One union activist told the Los Angeles Times it was “something we are pretty happy about.” The union also tweeted that 99% of voting members approved the contract.

Cavooris told The Daily Nexus that he “[didn’t] know that there are any specific union actions planned” in response to minimum wage exclusion.

The pay increases come alongside a state bill that would require the UC system to provide identical benefits to employees and contractors.

Student and External Vice President at the UCLA Undergraduate Student Organization Zachary Helder says that the policy is unfair to students, who expect eventually to shoulder the costs. Helder believes the policy “merely transfers money from one group of vulnerable Californians to another.”

The policy comes in the wake of unpopular tuition hikes last year. Additionally, Napolitano drew criticism and apologized in March for being overheard calling student protests at a Board of Regents meeting "crap."

Napolitano, however, argues that the wage and tuition increases are unrelated. In a statement, her office claimed “[m]ost of the cost associated with the wage increases will be covered by non-core funds such as those from self-supporting auxiliary services such as bookstores and food services.”

As governor of Arizona, Napolitano presided over the state's adoption of its own minimum wage law in 2006. The state previously was subject only to federal minimum wage law.

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