By Olga Grigoryants
LONG BEACH, Calif. (Reuters) - More than 1,000 staff and students marched through the streets of Long Beach, California, on Tuesday to demand a raise for the 26,000 faculty members of the California State University, the nation's largest public university system.
The California Faculty Association, which represents faculty at the 23 California State University campuses, organized the so-called "Fight for Five" protest that culminated outside the California State University Board of Trustee's meeting.
At the meeting, members of the association called for a 5 percent raise, saying that a 2 percent salary hike proposed by the university management was not enough.
"People are suffering and hurting financially," said Theresa Montaño, a vice president of the California Teacher's Association. "Faculty members can't pay off their debt, raise a family or buy a home."
During the march, many protesters said that if faculty members don't get the salary increase, they are ready to walk off the job. More than 90 percent of the CSU faculty voted earlier this week to go on strike if negotiators do not reach an agreement.
Outside of the board's building, instructors and students rallied holding signs that read "faculty salaries are too low" and "I don't want to strike but I will."
Eduardo Estrada, 19, a student from Cal State Northridge, said he skipped class on Tuesday to join his classmates "to support his professors."
Jennifer Eagan, a president for CFA, said it's "unfair to ask professors keep sacrificing year after year without a significant pay increase."
Laurie Weidner, an assistant vice chancellor for The California State University, said the salaries of CSU's faculty members are "competitive," adding that a 5 percent salary increase would cost the system $102.3 million per year, or $69.3 million more than a 2 percent raise.
Weidner said that if the board granted the 5 percent raise, it would also require them to grant similar increases for other union staff working for the university system, with commensurate costs.
(Reporting by Olga Grigoryants in Long Beach,; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sandra Maler)