WESTWOOD (CBSLA) – Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders joined thousands of University of California union workers Wednesday at UCLA who are taking part in a one-day statewide strike, calling for higher pay and better benefits amid contract negotiations.

Sanders briefly spoke at a rally near the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, one of several such rallies taking place across the state.

“The University of California is one of the great university systems in the world, but it is not good enough to be a great university,” Sanders told the crowd. “It is not good enough to have a great hospital or medical center. The University of California must not be a corporate-type employer. The University of California must be a model employer.”

UCLA union workers rally on the Westwood campus demanding better pay and benefits. March 20, 2019. (CBS2)

The strike was organized by about 10,000 research and technical workers represented by the University Professional & Technical Employees union (UPTE).

In total, however, over 40,000 employees are striking statewide. They include another 5,000 UPTE-represented healthcare workers and 27,000 AFSCME patient-care technical and service workers, all of whom are joining the strike in a sympathy capacity.

Bernie Sanders addresses hundreds of UCLA union workers at a rally on the Westwood campus demanding better pay and benefits. March 20, 2019. (CBS2)

According to the union, the UPTE workers staging Wednesday’s walkout run clinical healthcare trials and laboratory tests, manage classroom and hospital technology, monitor building safety and care for research animals, among other tasks.

The rally was held at the intersection of La Conte Avenue and Westwood Plaza and temporarily shut down Wilshire Boulevard at the intersection with Westwood Plaza.

Last June, Sanders held a similar rally in Anaheim with thousands of Disneyland workers who were also protesting for higher wages.

UPTE claims the UC’s latest wage-increase offer is less than half of what it gave workers represented by the California Nurses Association, and also included retirement cuts while rejecting overtime improvements and limitations on the use of part-time workers.

A university representative countered that the UPTE’s double-digit salary demands “are far beyond those given to other UC employees.”

All UC medical centers, clinics and research and educational facilities were open and operational Wednesday.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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