The University of California and the union representing the system’s 8,500 custodians, gardeners, cafeteria workers and drivers announced a tentative contract settlement Wednesday. The pact ends an 18-month dispute that triggered a five-day strike last summer and protest rallies at regents’ meetings and elsewhere.

Representatives of the service workers had said that many earned poverty-level wages at 10 UC campuses and five medical centers, generally making between $10 and $20 an hour. Under the agreement, a new statewide minimum pay rate of $12 per hour would take effect later this year and that would rise to $14 an hour over five years. In addition, workers would receive other increases of 4% this year and 3% in each of the following four years.

“I’m really excited. I think it’s a really good settlement because it helps to start to move people out of poverty,” said Lakesha Harrison, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299. Although the union did not get everything it sought, it won historic concessions, she said, including establishing a minimum pay rate across the UC system.

Shelley Nielsen, UC’s chief negotiator, said university leaders were pleased to have reached what they see as a fair agreement. UC officials estimated that the average hourly pay of a UC service employee will rise from $14.35 to $18.39 over the life of the contract.