Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was expected to appear at UCLA on Thursday in sympathy for a statewide strike by thousands of research, technical and health care workers.

As many as 2,000 workers stood outside the Westwood campus during the March 20 walkout by two labor unions representing 39,000 workers across the UC system, according to a spokesman. Sanders was scheduled to address the post-rain crowd at 1 p.m.

The employees, of whom 5,000 work at UCLA, were members of the University Professional & Technical Employees, or UPTE-CWA, joined by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union. They say UC has ignored concerns about flat wages, reduced benefits and income inequality.

They claim UC’s latest offer to increase wages was less than half of what the union gave workers in the California Nurses Association, while it rejected overtime improvements and limits on part-time workers.

“For nearly two years, UC has refused to recognize the value of its workers and has instead worked to worsen income inequality,” said Kathryn Lybarger, president of AFSCME Local 3299, in a statement before the one-day strike.

A spokeswoman for the University of California said three strikes in one year have come at a cost to patients, students and UC communities, while doing nothing to help unionized works get closer to a contract and wage increases.

Agreeing to the demands of both unions would cost UC hundreds of millions more over the life of the contracts, and be unfair to other UC employees, said Claire Doan, spokeswoman for the university. She said the university has offered concessions, but progress can’t get past the unions’ all-or-nothing approach to a deal.

“UPTE and AFSCME’s rallying cry is ‘fairness,’ and yet they want raises that are nearly twice or triple that of other UC employees,” Doan said in a statement. “They claim they’re losing jobs and getting displaced, yet for the past five years they’ve enjoyed substantial growth in membership and earnings.”

Health business reporter Dana Bartholomew can be reached at dbartholomew@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @_DanaBart.

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