The largest public university system in the nation sounded the alarm this summer declaring that it was struggling to attract and retain qualified staff. (Spoiler alert: It is not due to a worker shortage.)
In a report to state legislators and the finance department in April, then-acting chancellor for the California State University, Steve Relyea, wrote: “It is not an overstatement: The CSU’s mission is in jeopardy if it is unable to recruit and retain qualified employees to serve its students and to fulfill the significant role that the CSU plays within California’s economy.”
There is no debate as to the cause behind the human resources crisis across the CSU: The University underpays its workers.
A state-funded, CSU-supported independent salary study, conducted by Mercer last year, determined that the CSU staff salaries are 12% behind the market average. Further analysis also showed that women and workers of color are among the lowest paid and negatively affected by the stagnation.
After more than two decades of contract negotiations and passing the buck, the CSU has proven to be an unreliable partner when it comes to addressing pay inequities.
There are some 20,000 support staff employees whose collective work keeps 23 campuses and the Chancellor’s Office operational 24/7. As we have seen the last two years, these essential frontline employees power through and serve students even through a pandemic.
My bill, SB 410, also known as The Steps to Economic Parity in Salaries (S.T.E.P.S.) Act, will help fix the CSU’s broken salary structure for CSU support staff that has existed for over 25 years and ensure that they have the right to earn a wage that is competitive and on par with their counterparts in Higher Ed.
Specifically, this bill implements a nine-step system that includes annual merit salary increases of 5% for the first five years, three separate merit 4% increases every two years, and a final step three years later for a total of nine steps over 15 years.
The legislation awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature. In 2019, the governor encouraged the CSU to design a more equitable salary structure through collective bargaining with its support staff workforce: “I urge the CSU to address a longstanding inequity faced by dedicated and skilled employees who are facing stagnant wages and declining market rate salaries due to a lack of merit steps … The troubling absence of merit salary steps takes the biggest toll on the most long-serving workers, who fall further behind their more recently hired colleagues…”
However, after more than two decades of contract negotiations and passing the buck, the CSU has proven to be an unreliable partner when it comes to addressing pay inequities. At least when it comes to the frontline workforce.
CSU support staff — whose work is vital to student success — deserve to have good jobs, fair pay, and opportunities for advancement.
Citing a salary survey showing its campus presidents were underpaid, the Board of Trustees acted with much haste this summer to boost presidents’ compensation, with some seeing a raise ranging from 7% to 29%.
University leaders claim SB 410 may lead to tuition hikes for students. That is a well-worn tactic to divide students and staff. The CSU has a $11.9 billion budget; there should be room for dialogue about how to fund the salary study without trying to make students pay a price.
In fact, the Cal State Student Association’s position on SB410 is that it “supports eﬀorts to rectify the systemic issues that have led to years of salary inequities for CSU staﬀ as outlined in the Mercer study ﬁndings. We believe these eﬀorts can lead to an increase in the recruitment and retention of diverse staﬀ.”
SB 410 sailed through the state Legislature with bipartisan support because we recognize the CSU serves as the engine of opportunity for all Californians who seek higher education. SB 410 would cost the system roughly $50 million annually on top of the $287 in initial costs, according to the CSU. The governor’s funding compact with the CSU promises 5% annual increases in state support through 2026-27, totaling more than $1 billion in new state support.
CSU support staff — whose work is vital to student success — deserve to have good jobs, fair pay, and opportunities for advancement. Thousands are CSU alumni return to work as IT specialists, lab technicians, groundskeepers, nurses, and administrative and clerical support.
The CSU and its workforce are important to the California economy. For every dollar invested by the state, the CSU generates $6.98 for the state’s economy.
Investment in compensation is critical to the CSU’s ability to recruit and retain talented staff, who help students attain their goals.
Our workforce is the most vital infrastructure we have; investing in CSU workers is an investment in California’s future.
Editor’s Note: State Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) represents the 20th Senate district.