MERCED, Calif. (KTLA) – UC Merced workers are among the thousands of workers at the 10 University of California campuses who went on strike Monday as their union negotiates for higher wages, amid other contract demands.

Picket signs were piled up on the sidewalk an hour before the strike began at 8 a.m.

Nearly 48,000 teaching assistants, researchers, post doctoral scholars, readers and tutors walked off campus demanding a significant pay increase.

The members say some receive salaries so low that they cannot afford housing near or on campus.

The union (UAW) is demanding the University of California increase salaries so workers no longer have to live on what they described as “poverty wages.”

“Inflation has bitten into our earnings in a huge, huge way,” said UCLA Teaching Fellow/Union Representative Michael Dean.

Dean says proposals made by the University so far don’t even match the rate of inflation and “amounts to a real wage cut.”

Students say the U.C. workers are essential to their schools.

“They are the ones that kind of push the class forward,” said UCLA student Nicole.

Nicole said that professors can’t grade all of the students’ work and “they rely on the TAs.”

The University of California responded to the strike with a statement Monday that read in part:

“Our campuses have been preparing to mitigate the impact of any strike activity on our students by ensuring, to the extent possible, continuity of instruction and research … The University of California continues to negotiate in good faith.”

The statement went on to say that the University and the union achieved many tentative agreements on issues such as a respectful work environment and health and safety matters prior to the strike.