AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Across California, tens of thousands of people who work for the University of California system are on strike.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) No fight, no win. No fight...
CORNISH: They want better pay. They don't want to pay more for healthcare. Vanessa Rancano is with member station KQED. She's in Berkeley covering the strike. Welcome to the program.
VANESSA RANCANO, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: So you're at the UC Berkeley campus. Can you describe the scene there?
RANCANO: Sure. So this is the first day of finals week, so it would normally be a pretty quiet time on campus. But instead, there's this big mass of people gathered at the main entrance to the campus. They're all wearing these bright green shirts that say, we run. You see. And at the moment, they're holding a rally, and they're listening to labor leaders and some elected officials speaking.
CORNISH: You've actually spoken with some of the protesters. Describe who these people are.
RANCANO: Yeah. These are some of the lowest-paid workers on this campus. They are custodians, cooks, groundskeepers, truck drivers, security guards. And a lot of what they've been talking to me about is the cost of living in the Bay Area. Some say they work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Some live half an hour, 45 minutes away because it's cheaper to live there. And they also talk quite a bit about what they see as inflated wages for the UC administrators - right? - top-level management and a growing inequality between what they, some of the lowest-paid workers, are making and these top officials.
CORNISH: I don't know if you're hearing from students at all. But do you have a sense of how this is affecting life on campus?
RANCANO: I mean, it's hard to tell. I see students milling around. Some of them have their heads down and headphones in, you know, and they're just passing right by, not paying any attention. But then there are some graduate students here who are picketing in solidarity with the workers. UC is so far very cautious about what they'll say. They are telling me that here at UC Berkeley, things are totally under control. It's a quiet day on campus, and there are people staffing the cafeterias.
CORNISH: Help us understand some of the sticking points between those university administrators and the union members.
RANCANO: Concretely, the union is seeking a 6-percent wage increase. UC, the university, has so far given 2 percent. So that's the major sticking point. But there's also the cost of healthcare and retirement age.
CORNISH: Given that there have been teacher strikes at states around the country, do you get the sense that this group is also kind of empowered or emboldened by that? Do they feel like they're part of a broader movement?
RANCANO: This is, like, the fifth or sixth time that these folks have gone on strike. Every cycle of negotiations over the past several years have led to a strike. So it's not a particularly new thing. And as I said, they really attribute it to what they see as rising inequality, a big wage gap and the cost of living in the Bay Area.
CORNISH: Vanessa Rancano is with member station KQED. Thank you for your reporting.
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