More than 30,000 professors, librarians, plumbers, electricians and other workers at California State University, the largest public university system in the U.S., walked off the job Monday in a weeklong strike to demand higher wages—including staff at San Francisco State University.
Nearly two-thirds of faculty are in the bottom half of the four pay ranges, a union spokesperson said. And a majority of those workers earn the lowest salaries in those ranges.
In 2022, the lowest levels were $54,000 and $65,000 for the two ranges. The union demands that Cal State raise those minimum salaries by $10,000 and $5,000, respectively.
The stoppage across Cal State's 23 campuses comes two weeks after CSU officials ended contract negotiations with a unilateral offer of a 5% pay raise effective Jan. 31, far below the 12% hike that the union is seeking.
With the new semester beginning Monday, classes for many of the system's 450,000 students could be canceled unless faculty individually decide to cross picket lines.
The California Faculty Association represents roughly 29,000 workers. They will be joined on the picket lines by 1,100 CSU skilled trades workers represented by the Teamsters Local 2010, which has also not yet reached a new contract with the university.
Cal State Chancellor Mildred Garcia said Friday in a video call with journalists that the university system had sought to avoid a strike but the union's salary demands are simply not viable.
"We must work within our financial reality," she said.
In December, union members staged one-day walkouts on four campuses in Los Angeles, Pomona, Sacramento and San Francisco to press for higher pay, more manageable workloads and increased parental leave.
The union says the university has money in its "flush reserve accounts" and could afford the salary increases with funds from operating cash surpluses and the $766 million CSU has in emergency reserves.
Leora Freedman, CSU's vice chancellor for human resources, said Friday those reserve funds cannot be tapped for wage hikes because they are meant for times of economic uncertainty or emergencies, including wildfires or earthquakes.
"We've made several offers with movement, and most recently, a 15% increase that would be paid over three years, providing faculty a 5% increase each year. But the faculty union has never moved off its 12% demand for one year only," she said.
The increase the union is seeking would cost the system $380 million in new recurring spending, which the university can't afford, Freedman said.
In 2022, teaching assistants and graduate student workers in the University of California System went on strike for a month, disrupting classes as the fall semester ended.
Cal State vows to dock the pay of workers who strike. “It is a misuse of taxpayer dollars for the CSU to compensate any employee who withholds work,” wrote Amy Bentley-Smith, a Cal State spokesperson.
Faculty who strike for a week can expect pay reductions of about 3%, she added.
Union leaders are urging all members to walk the picket lines and avoid work, even the lowest-paid workers who earn the equivalent of $54,000 annually.
All campuses except San Francisco State University, where spring term starts next week, encourage students to report their instructors if they canceled classes this week, according to a CalMatters review of campus websites.
“If a class or service is canceled, you are welcome to share that information with us here so that we can best assure continuity and fulfillment of instruction,” Cal State Northridge wrote to students, using language common across all the other campuses that are asking students for that information.