U of M workers authorize strike

AFSCME members celebrated the 72 percent support for authorizing a strike.
Photo courtesy of AFSCME Council 5

Four AFSCME locals representing 3,500 campus workers in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Crookston and Duluth voted Thursday to authorize a strike.

"An overwhelming 72 percent of AFSCME clerical, health care and technical workers who voted on the University of Minnesota's so-called 'final settlement offer' rejected this assault on their wages and steps," the union said in a news release on the AFSCME Council 5 website.

"We have all taken a stand for our standard of living," said Barb Bezat, president of Local 3937. "Let's get back to the table. This vote shouts out for a wage offer that enables us to make real economic progress."

In addition to Local 3937, the vote involved AFSCME Locals 3260, 3800 and 3801.

The union filed its intent to strike Friday morning at the Bureau of Mediation Services, the state agency that provides oversight of public employee bargaining. A walkout could start the first day of fall semester classes on Sept. 4.

"We don't want to strike, but we're ready to go if the university refuses to deal with us fairly," Local 3800 President Phyllis Walker said at a news conference Friday afternoon on the steps of Morrill Hall, the university administration building.

Walker and the other local union presidents said they hope the administration will return to the bargaining table with a fair offer.

"The ball is in their court," said Rhonda Jennen, president of Local 3260.

Clerical workers struck the university in 2003, but the current walkout would be larger because it would also involve technical and health care workers. Denise Osterholm, president of Local 3801, the clerical union at University of Minnesota-Duluth, said the union memberships are united.

"This is a strong message to the university," she said.

Carol Carrier, university vice president of human resources, said the administration "offered AFSCME a compensation package that is fair and competitive. The university is ready and willing to continue good faith negotiations with AFSCME to reach an agreement and avert a strike.

"It is unfortunate that the possibility of a strike has arisen at the beginning of the academic year," she added. "There is no question that a strike at the beginning of the semester would provide disruptions to students, faculty, and staff, which is unfortunate and completely avoidable."

If a walkout occurs, "classes will begin as scheduled and the university's important teaching, research, and outreach work will continue. We have prepared appropriate strike plans, and they will be implemented to maintain a high level of service to our students and visitors."

A strike support committee, drawing on members of other unions and people in the community, has been organized. Its next meeting will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at the UTEC building, 1313 5th St. S.E., Minneapolis.

For more information

Visit the unions' websites, www.afscme3800.org, www.afscme3937.org, www.afscmemn.org and www.d.umn.edu/~afscme/
For more on the support committee, go to www.uworkers.org
The U of M Office of Human Resources, http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/er/negotiations/afscmeproposal.html

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