By Jose San Mateo

While campus service workers and administrators across the University of California system clash over issues of wage equity, workers may have found a new source of support for their cause: the student body.

This Thursday, Feb. 15, student protesters at UC Santa Cruz plan to walk out of their classes in solidarity with UC service workers, many of whom will protest their wages in front of the UC Office of the President in Oakland.

Employee wages have been a hot-button issue for UCSC students and service workers over the years. In Spring 2005, thousands of students rallied at the base of campus in support of the custodial workers’ one-day strike, and participants of the October 2006 Regents protest demanded wage increases for UCSC’s lowest-paid staff.

The main point of contention between workers and administrators is the Regent’s allocation of state funding and the fact that state money has not gone toward increasing worker pay.

William Schlitz, a representative from the American Federation for State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the labor union representing university employees, believes there is plenty of money from state and other revenue sources to make a wage increase possible.

“They have the resources,” Schlitz said. “It’s how they allocate them.”

Anthony Simbal, the principal fiscal analyst for the non-partisan Legislative Analysts Office, said that state legislature has no discretion as to where UC money goes.

“When the budget is approved, it is a UC decision,” Simbal said of state funds.

According to a 2005 report conducted by the National Economic Development and Law Center, the average minimum wage for UC employees is a little over $10 per hour, while their California State University and community college counterparts make a little over $12 per hour.

While the wage equity issue involves service workers UC-wide, the disputes have traditionally been relegated to individual campuses.

AFSCME hopes to change that by having workers from the Berkeley, Irvine, Santa Cruz, and Santa Barbara campuses rally in front of the UC Office of the President (UCOP). Julian Posadas, executive vice president of AFSCME local-3299, said that UCSC service workers will hold a rally on campus, but they will also send representatives to Oakland.

In response to the Feb. 15 rally, the UCOP issued a statement saying that while they support the workers right to protest, they believe that labor issues should be resolved at the bargaining table.

Juan Castillo, the workers’ lead organizer at UC Irvine, plans to send representatives by car and bus to Oakland. He also stressed solidarity among AFSCME workers.

Castillo said, “Solidarity is very important and that’s why we’re planning to go there as a group.”