Standard of living at issue in U of M talks


Nicole Masika is working a second job to pay all her bills. Ramona Cunningham drives a 10-year-old car and cuts corners whenever possible in her family budget. Both women are employed at the University of Minnesota, where they say cuts in compensation threaten their standard of living. Some 3,500 university employees represented by AFSCME are demanding higher wages in contract negotiations underway between the union and university administration.

“I wondered why my paycheck wasn’t going as far as it was four years ago,” said Cunningham, a student services specialist in the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute. “Now I know.”

Cunningham, Masika and other AFSCME members used a tool developed by AFSCME member Greg Knoblaugh to calculate the impact of inflation on their salaries in the last five years. Cunningham figures her real income has dropped by $1,768. Masika, a library assistant, says her loss is at least $800 and probably closer to $1,400 – “what I make at my second job.”

Talks began May 31 between the university and AFSCME Locals 3260, 3800, 3801 and 3937, representing clerical, technical and health care workers. However, the university didn’t make its first wage proposal until Thursday.

Local 3937 reported the university is offering 1 percent wage increases to clericals and technicals and 1.25 percent increases for health care workers.

As the talks heated up, AFSCME held a lunchtime rally outside the McNamara Center, where the Board of Regents meets.

Local 3260 President Rhonda Jennen, a dental assistant at the university for 17 years, said the message is simple: “Our concerns this time around are No. 1 wages, No. 2 wages and No. 3 – wages!”

Falling behind is made even worse by the fact the university has awarded some huge salary increases to top administrators, said Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800.

“The U is not questioning our numbers or our findings,” she said, but administrators “could not tell us why the U had made the decision to award huge windfalls to the people at the top while keeping front line workers struggling to support themselves and their families.”

AFSCME leaders called on the university to “reorder its priorities” and set the standard as a quality employer.

The union said it is awaiting a health insurance proposal from the administration. Negotiations are set to resume July 9 and 10.