Thousands of UC workers set to strike

As many as 8,500 University of California employees may hit the picket lines beginning today to protest a deadlock over wage increases.

The strike involves workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, who perform housekeeping, cafeteria and security services on UC campuses.

The strike is expected to run though Friday at UC's 10 campuses and five medical centers.

UC Merced officials said they do not know whether the 60 AFSCME union members at the school are planning on picketing, said Tonya Luiz, UC Merced spokeswoman.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge Friday issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the strike.

"We don't know what to expect," Luiz said. "Because the strike is illegal, we can't predict who will and who won't participate."

But Luiz said daily operations at the university are not expected to be affected.

Union officials claim their wages have fallen behind other colleges, including California's community college system. Many employees earn $10 an hour, which is as much as 25 percent behind comparable workers at other institutions, the union says. Negotiations have been under way for nearly a year to resolve the wage dispute. The union seeks a pay increase to $15 an hour.

The union claims low wages make 96 percent of its members eligible for government welfare programs.

"The workers at the University of California are living in poverty," said Lakesha Harrison, a UC vocational nurse and president of the union local.

University officials offered to increase wages to $11.50 to $12 an hour. But the union rejected the offer and 97 percent of its members voted to strike.

Harrison said the judge's temporary restraining order directed the union to notify university officials about strike times, which it did, and the strike will start as planned today.

In a statement Friday, university officials said they expect union members to obey the court order and report to work.

"Our proposals are fair and responsive to many of the union's expressed concerns, and our employees deserve to have these negotiations resolved," said Howard Pripas, director of UC labor relations.

Merced Sun-Star reporter Victor Patton contributed to this report.