When California Governor Pat Brown helped create the modern University of California system in the early 1960s, he envisioned many things: a world-class structure of higher education, universal access to students from every background, a gateway to middle-class careers, cutting-edge research centers. All of that has come to pass, making UC an enduring part of Brown’s legacy.
One thing Brown did not foresee, however, was UC becoming embroiled in an emblematic fight over economic inequality, with critics charging that one of the nation’s most prestigious public institutions is perpetuating poverty.
The controversy over UC’s use of thousands of contract workers who earn low wages with few, if any, benefits has taken center stage in Sacramento, where legislation that would end such practices is expected to clear the Assembly floor this week. The fate of Senate Bill 376, sponsored by state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), likely will rest with Pat Brown’s son, current California Governor Jerry Brown, who has yet to indicate whether he would sign or veto the legislation. The bill would require UC contractors to meet the same wage and benefit standards as the university for comparable labor — what backers call “equal pay for equal work.”