More than 150 University of Minnesota undergraduate and graduate student supporters of the striking AFSCME workers gathered in front of the McNamara Alumni Center for a rally at 9 AM Friday morning.
After hearing from a retired AFSCME worker, a faculty member and others, they decided to proceed to the Board of Regents meeting which was being held inside the building. Approximately 100 of the student supporters entered the room where the meeting was being held. After hearing one of the regents ask if any of her colleagues had a question for president Bruininks, one student said, “We want to know when there’s going to be a fair contact for the workers at this university.” The chair of the meeting attempted to call the meeting to order, and upon seeing that the students weren’t quieting down, she called a recess.
A small group of students and supporters then locked arms to block the doors that the regents were set to exit through. The police quickly moved them out of the way and placed five demonstrators in handcuffs. All but one regent- Steve Hunter, Secretary-Treasurer of the MN AFL-CIO– left the room. The students then proceeded to discuss their concerns with Hunter who said that he shared their view that the striking workers deserved a fair contract. The students also used the time during the recess to introduce themselves to each other and to say why they’d decided to attend the rally. One undergraduate sociology student explained that she had just enrolled in a class on non-violent social change, “What better way to learn?”
After the five handcuffed protesters were arrested for interfering with public property and escorted out of the room. The students cheered when asked if they would support those who’d been arrested and work for their quick release from the Hennepin County Jail. Shortly thereafter, the regents returned and Steve Hunter made a statement in support of the striking workers. Following this, President Bruininks thanked him and suggested that they move onto the rest of their planned agenda. When the students again began asking when a fair contract would be negotiated, the regents got up and left the room and the meeting was adjourned.
At 11 AM, the AFSCME unions held a rally outside of the same building. Approximately 750 strikers and supporters attended. State Representative Lyndon Carlson addressed the crowd, “When we gave the university a 12% increase this year, one of the issues we wanted to see addressed was a fair and equitable wage increase for the university workers… It’s important that the university gets back to the table. This could be resolved today.”
Leaders of the union thanked Secretary of State Mark Ritchie for attending the rally, as well as the youngest striker, a two month old baby of an AFSCME Local 3800 member. Cherrene Horazuk, AFSCME Local 3800, passed along updates from the other U campuses involved in the strike. “We got a call from Duluth that seven student replacement workers haven’t shown up for work at a clinic there and so they’re not taking patients. In Crookston, the Registrar’s office is shut down. In Morris, members of the Carpenter’s union walked off the job in a show of solidarity, each giving up three hundred dollars of their own wages.” AFSCME members from the St. Paul campus came together to the rally and reported strong support in their areas as well. “We kept the SYSCO truck at bay for three hours yesterday. We’re sunburnt and blistered, but we’ve never felt stronger,” said one of the St. Paul strikers. AFSCME President Barb Bezat remarked that, “The folks in Morrill Hall may not know what we do, but they’re sure finding out today.”
AFSME Council 5 Executive Director Elliot Seide reported that he’d spoken with AFSCME International Union President Gerald McEntee and that he offered the full support of the union, including a $25,000 contribution to the strikers’ hardship fund. AFSCME Local 3800 President Phyllis Walker reported that in the first three days of the strike, there was already $45,000 in the fund from community and union donations.
Michelle Sommers, President of ATU Local 1005 said, “We are also public employees. The sad thing is that public workers across this state are being disgraced. When they talk about infrastructure, it’s not just bridges that have issues.” Rhonda Brennan, President of AFSCME Local 3260 brought her dog with her, remarking on how many strikers were losing quality time with their children and pets. “The U gives us plastic pedometers to have us walk around at noon, and they call this their ‘wellness initiative.’ What they’re missing is economic wellness.”
Striker Mary Brandl, a six year employee of the university cried as she told the story of a man with lung cancer who’d come out to support the picket she was on. “I can’t walk up and down, but I can come here and sit with you,” he said. Brandl said, “for him and many others, this strike is about fairness and respect for everyone in the university community. We’re fighting for our future.”
For more information
Go to the Workday Minnesota special section on the strike View video coverage of the strike
Visit the unions’ websites, www.afscme3800.org, www.afscme3937.org, www.afscmemn.org and www.d.umn.edu/~afscme/
To provide support, see www.uworkers.org and www.afscmemn.org
For information from the U of M Office of Human Resources, http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/er/negotiations/afscmeproposal.html