SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The minimum wage for University of California employees and contract workers will increase to $15 an hour by fall 2017, UC President Janet Napolitano said Wednesday in announcing a move that follows similar actions by local governments but likely represents a first for a public university.
As California's third-largest employer, the university should be taking the lead in ensuring its lowest-paid workers make decent wages, Napolitano said at a meeting of the 10-campus system's governing board.
"Our community does not exist in a vacuum. How we support our workers and their families impacts Californians who might never set foot on one of our campuses," she said. "It's the right thing to do."
The move comes after leaders in Los Angeles County, the nation's most populous county, voted Tuesday to raise base pay to $15 over the next five years and as Vice President Joe Biden planned to promote a higher federal minimum wage during a stop Wednesday at a washroom equipment manufacturer in Los Angeles.
The University of California's hourly earners, a group that includes students and full-time employees working in dining halls, dorms and bookstores or as gardeners, housekeepers and custodians at university campuses and hospitals, currently make the state minimum of $9 an hour.
Napolitano says she plans to boost that to $13 an hour in October for employees who work at least 20 hours a week and by $1 an hour in each of the next two years.
About 4,200 UC employees and a much larger, but unknown number of workers hired by university contractors will be getting the higher wages, system spokesman Dianne Klein said.
University officials have estimated that financing the raises for workers directly employed by UC will cost about $14 million a year, a fraction of the system's $12.6 billion annual payroll. Klein said UC also predicts that contractors will pass some of the cost of higher wages back to the university.
In recent months, workers and UC union representatives have spoken at Board of Regents meetings about the university's increased reliance on contractors whom they allege treat their workers unfairly.
Napolitano, who served as President Barack Obama's Homeland Security secretary before she assumed leadership of the University of California nearly two years ago, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that along with increasing the minimum wage she is setting up a hotline and online reporting system so complaints about contractors' labor practices go directly to her office.
The university also plans to audit its contractors to make sure they are paying their workers the same base wage to which UC employees will be entitled and complying with workplace health and safety laws, Napolitano said.
"I do think we would be the first university of our type to do something like this in the country," she said. "I just thought it was important for a public university to plant the flag here for low-wage workers and a more livable wage."
Two California cities where the university has campuses — San Francisco and Berkeley — and the city of Oakland, where Napolitano and the system's administrative offices are headquartered, already have base wages that are higher than the state's hourly minimum, with plans to get to $15 an hour over the next several years.
The city of Los Angeles, home to UCLA, enacted a similar progressive minimum wage increase last month.
Napolitano's minimum wage plan does not need approval from the regents.