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THIRTY-SIX PROTESTERS demanding pay raises for custodians at the University of California stage a sit-in Thursday on Franklin Street outside the UC president s office in downtown Oakland. They were arrested and cited for failing to disperse. (LAURA A. ODA Staff)
OAKLAND — Demanding increased pay for University of California custodians, 36 custodians and UC students supporting the workers' cause were willingly arrested Thursday after blocking traffic for more than an hour with a midstreet sit-in outside the UC president's office in downtown Oakland.

The demonstration by nearly 200 protesters in front of the building at 1111 Franklin St., the administrative headquarters of the UC system, was in support of about 1,000 workers at four UC campuses: custodians at Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, and groundskeepers at Irvine.

Protesters say starting pay for custodians at UC Berkeley is $11.34 an hour, while workers in comparable jobs at nearby community colleges start anywhere from $15 to $18 an hour.

"When UC wants to pay a professor or executive, they seem to find lots of money for that, even hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Lakesha Harrison, statewide president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents the custodians.

"But when it comes to what they consider the least important workers, they just can't find the money," Harrison said. "At this point, it's just a matter of respect."

UC officials agree that current salaries lag behind market rates for a number of employee groups, said UC spokeswoman Nicole Savickas. "Similar institutions

definitely pay higher wages," she said. "It came about from years of insufficient state funds."

On Dec.


7, UC negotiators met with three unions, including AFSCME, and proposed raises for workers making less than $30,000, she said. UC proposed a 1 percent increase, to be initiated on April 1, and another 1 percent raise on Jan. 1, 2008. The university received a counterproposal, but has yet to respond, Savickas said. All UC service workers received 4 percent raises in 2006, she said.

Even so, Savickas agreed these increases won't solve the problem, "and we're aware of that," she said.

About 1 p.m. Thursday, the protesters — including UC workers and students from all over the state — waved broken-heart posters and chanted. At about 2 p.m., the 36 protesters wearing pink armbands — designating them as those who wished to be arrested — sat down in a large circle in the street.

"As a UC Berkeley student, I think it's shameful for the university not to pay its workers a living wage," said Isaac Miller, 19, a UC Berkeley freshman, who planned to get arrested. "It goes against the very ideals the university stands for. It's embarrassing."

Oakland police blocked off the intersection and kept watch, then ordered the assembly to disperse about 2:30 p.m. Just after 3 p.m., police started taking the sitters into custody without incident. They drove them to a nearby park, cited them for refusal to disperse and let them go.

One protester, Robert Sumner, 58, of Goleta, was arrested earlier during the demonstration after allegedly pushing a videographer and getting in a scuffle with police. He was booked on suspicion of battery on a police officer.

AFSCME has held previous demonstrations during the past year in Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Southern California.

MediaNews staff writer Matt Krupnick contributed to this report.