Showdown looms at U of M

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University of Minnesota clerical, health care and technical workers vote Thursday whether to strike rather than accept the latest contract offer from the university administration.

If they authorize a strike, a walkout is likely to begin the first day of fall classes on Sept. 4, unions said.

The workers, represented by AFSCME Locals 3260, 3800, 3801 and 3937, say the administration is attacking a fundmental part of their contracts – “step” pay increases that workers receive as they accumulate more experience on the job.

In an e-mail to all university employees, Vice President of Human Resources Carol Carrier said the university’s wage proposal, combined with step increases, would amount to an annual 4.25 percent pay raise for most university employees. She said it was logical to count step increases and a pay raise together.

“A strike benefits no one,” Carrier said in her e-mail. “A strike would not change the dollars the University has available for wage increases.”

AFSCME called Carrier’s characterization of the wage proposal “grossly misleading.” Without counting steps, the adminstration’s pay offer is only 2.25 to 2.5 percent, the union said.

“Forty percent of healthcare workers are at the top of the wage scales,” said AFSCME Local 3260 President Rhonda Jennen. “This means a good portion of us healthcare workers will get no steps. We would get only 2.5 percent across the board each year of the contract if we accept their last offer. Just another example of the how administration likes to spin the numbers.

“Historically, our steps were never costed out as part of the annual wage increase,” the unions said in a statement posted on the Local 3800 website.

“If we allow the University to count our step increases as part of our July 1 general wage increase, then the University will have succeeded in what they have failed to do in our last two negotiations – take away our step increases.”

The four AFSCME locals represent about 3,500 campus workers in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Crookston and Duluth whose previous contracts expired June 30.

Dozens of strike preparation meetings are being held on the Twin Cities, Crookston and Duluth campuses. In addition, a Labor and Community Strike Support Committee is organizing. Its next meeting will be held Saturday, Aug. 25, at 10 a.m. at the UTEC building, 1313 5th Street SE, Room 102A, 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