By Curtis Skinner
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The University of California said on Wednesday it will raise the minimum wage for its workforce to $15 an hour by 2017, mirroring similar actions in several of the state's biggest cities and becoming the first public system of higher education to do so.
UC President Janet Napolitano announced the move, which would apply to all employees on the payroll of the 10-campus system who work at least 20 hours a week, amid a national campaign to elevate the base income for low-wage workers.
"How we support our workers and their families impacts Californians who might never set foot on one of our campuses," Napolitano said in a statement. "This is the right thing to do."
The University of California is the nation's largest public research university institution, according to UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein.
It is also California's third-largest employer, behind the state and federal governments, with about 195,000 employees spread out over its 10 campuses, five medical centers and other facilities, the statement said.
Klein said roughly 3,200 workers directly employed by the university, most of them students, will benefit from the increase, in addition to thousands more contractors and subcontractors.
Under the new policy, a university-wide hourly wage floor would be set at $13 starting in October, and go up by $1 a year until 2017, reaching $15 an hour that fall.
Klein said the UC system's current minimum wage varies by location, but California statewide hourly minimum rose from $8 to $9 last July and is set to increase by $1 more on Jan. 1, 2016.
The university said most of the costs associated with the increase would come from "non-core funds," which are separate from tuition, fees and state resources.
The federal minimum wage has been set at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Labor groups and their supporters have increasingly pressed state and local governments to enact their own minimum wage hikes as expectations for a national increase dim in the face of a Republican-controlled Congress.
Last month, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a law to raise the city's minimum wage from $9 an hour to $15 by 2020, an increase that will affect hundreds of thousands of workers in the second-largest U.S. city. Similar measures have recently been enacted by Los Angeles County, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and elsewhere.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Walsh)