Hundreds of faculty and their supporters marched through Cal State Long Beach in the rain on Monday morning to demand better pay and working conditions on the first day of a weeklong strike.

The California Faculty Association, a union that represents some 29,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches across the California State University system, planned to cancel classes and cease all work during the first week of the spring semester across all 23 CSU campuses.

A group of Cal State Long Beach faculty strike as the rain continues to come down near the campus in Long Beach, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

“For me personally and for many lecturers like myself, it’s about catching up,” said Elaine Villanueva Bernal, CFA co-vice-president and a lecturer for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at CSULB. “My base take-home salary is $59,000 which is well below the LA County living wage.”

The union’s contract with the university ends this summer and faculty are demanding a 12% salary increase along with better working conditions.

CFA called the strike historic, as it marks the first time faculty have walked off the job at all 23 campuses since the union launched in 1983.

On Monday morning, some students were seen protesting alongside faculty members as others tried to make their way to class. Protesters also gathered around major intersections on campus.

Luis Ortiz, an undergraduate student at CSULB said the university has not provided enough mental health counseling for students as part of Senate Bill 11, which calls for one counselor for every 1,500 students.

“We are struggling financially. We are struggling mentally,” said Ortiz. “They expect us to keep learning… [and] for our faculty to give us the best job they can with the lowest wages.”

Mayor Rex Richardson and a representative from state Sen. Lena Gonzalez’s office also were on campus to show their support. Richardson said he was standing in “unequivocal solidarity with our hard-working faculty right here in Long Beach.”

“We are here to call on the CSU and Chancellor [Mildred] Garcia to negotiate a fair wage to get our campus back open …,” he said.

Richardson’s first job out of college was with CFA, under which he helped organize the first strike authorization vote in CSU history in 2006, he said.

Representatives from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and Unite Here Local 11 unions were also present to picket in solidarity with CFA on Monday morning.

A group of Cal State Long Beach faculty cross the street as they strike near the campus in Long Beach, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The university system previously offered faculty a 5% raise on Jan. 9, and on Friday, the CSU system said it would return to the bargaining table to offer a 15% salary increase spread over three years. CSU officials previously said that an immediate 12% salary increase is not sustainable, adding that the raise and other demands would cost the system $380 million this year.

“This is financially unrealistic,” the university said in a statement on Monday.

CSU said in a news release Monday that they spoke with CFA over the weekend, but they did not disclose what was discussed. The university said they will give updates as the week goes on.

A similar strike with other CSU employees was averted Friday when a deal was reached with Teamsters 2010, which represents 1,100 skilled trade workers at 22 of the 23 campuses.

The campus and the university system have said they are prepared for the walkout and have a contingency plan to minimize disruptions. The union plans to strike across CSU campuses possibly through Friday.

“There have been no changes to the published spring academic calendar, and the strike will not interfere with students’ ability to complete their courses and graduate on time,” the university said in a statement on Monday.

University officials have also encouraged students at each campus to report faculty members who have canceled classes and services in an online form — a move that received backlash from students and union members.

CSU is the largest public higher education system in the country, with 1 in 20 Americans receiving college degrees from its campuses.

City News Service contributed to this report.

Maison Tran is a fellow at the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected].