‘Don’t squander good will,’ lawmakers tell U

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The University of Minnesota is jeopardizing its support in the Minnesota Legislature by not reaching a fair settlement with striking workers, lawmakers said Tuesday.

At a news conference held at AFSCME strike headquarters in Dinkytown, three state legislators urged a quick end to the strike by clerical, health care and technical workers that began Sept. 5. They are the second group of lawmakers in as many weeks to speak out about the dispute.

“I am incredibly disappointed with the administration’s actions,” said state Senator Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-62, adding that having a “world class university” means the administration needs to “treat our workers as world class workers.”

State Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-60B, was equally direct.

“We don’t want the leadership of this institution to squander the goodwill they now have . . . . We don’t want the strike to last a day longer,” he said. “I speak for many of my colleagues in demanding that the collective bargaining process resume and the university come back to the table.”

legislators at strike news conference
Lawmakers, joined by a striker, urged the university to reach a fair settlement. From left are state Senator Patricia Torres Ray, state Rep. Frank Hornstein, state Senator John Marty and striker Brian Senske, a worker in the Medical School.

The 2007 Legislature boosted the university’s appropriation in part to fund increases in compensation, said state Senator John Marty, DFL-54. “We didn’t expect the pay raise would be dished out so that the people at the bottom of the pay scale get the least. But that’s what’s happening here.

“President Bruininks, I appeal to you and the Board of Regents. I think it’s time to get back to the bargaining table.”

Currently, no talks are scheduled.

Brian Senske, an AFSCME Local 3937 member and technical worker at the Medical School, appeared at the news conference with lawmakers. He said he didn’t want to be on the picketline, but had no choice.

“We work hard and we love our jobs and we love this institution,” he said. “But we can’t give any more.”

The legislators said they are concerned the growing gap in compensation between frontline workers and top university administrators is mirroring practices in the corporate world, where CEOs earn hundreds of times the pay of the average employee.

“We cannot have that in a learning institution, in an academic institution,” said Torres Ray.

Video and editing crews include Randy Croce, Tony DeAngelis, Howard Kling, Barb Kucera, Deborah Rosenstein and John See.