Thousands of custodians, security guards, gardeners and other service workers at University of California campuses have started a three-day walkout to address gender pay inequalities and demand higher wages.
Strikers gathered at sunrise Monday on the 10 campuses throughout the state, wearing green t-shirts and carrying signs that call for "equality, fairness, respect."
The strike was called by AFSCME Local 3299, which represents 25,000 service workers, after the union and the university couldn't agree on a new contract and mediation efforts failed.
By midday, several hundred striking employees walked up and down the sidewalk next to the UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange. Nearly all wore bright green t-shirts that read “WE RUN UC” and held picket signs that read, “FIGHTING FOR EQUALITY”, “EQUALITY FAIRNESS RESPECT” and “SAFE STAFFING NOW”
Union representatives said 1,000 people signed in for the picket lines, with some arriving as early as 6 a.m.
“I just moved back from Las Vegas and everything went up in the last four years,” said Irma Zuniga, referencing the cost of living in Southern California. She's a nurse’s aide in the medical center who checks vital signs, changes linen, and helps patients bathe.
Some employees also said the higher wages are justified because their workload has been increasing.
“We don’t have enough people and they usually overwork us,” said Kaye Zena Rosa, a clerical worker in the medical center’s emergency room “most of the time we don’t get to take breaks.”
The service workers called for a sympathy strike by professional and technical employees that could potentially include medical assistants, nurses, radiology and other technicians.
In a written statement, UC officials called the union strike "highly inappropriate" and said it will negatively affect students and patients.
"AFSCME leaders are demanding a nearly 20 percent pay raise over three years — twice what other UC employees have received," the statement said. "The university cannot justify to taxpayers such an excessive raise, no matter how much we appreciate our service workers, which include custodians, gardeners, food service workers and maintenance staff."
Medical center officials said they would continue to deliver essential patient care services but last week rescheduled a variety of appointments in anticipation of the walkouts.
More workers are expected to join the strike Tuesday, including nurses from the California Nurses Association.
2:20 p.m.: This article updated with reporting from UC Irvine.
This article originally published at 8:30 a.m.