U of M workers struggle to reverse wage losses; state workers reach agreement.
AFSCME unions at the University of Minnesota will “Stand Up for Our Standard of Living” with a rally Wednesday for a just wage settlement for clerical, technical and healthcare workers.
The rally will start at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8, outside Morrill Hall, the administration building on the East Bank of the university’s Minneapolis campus.
AFSCME, MAPE ratify contracts with state
The unions and state reached agreement just before the previous two-year contracts were set to expire June 30. AFSCME – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal workers – represents about 19,000 workers, while MAPE – Minnesota Association of Professional Employees – represents 11,500.
“The union’s bargaining team delivered a fair contract that state employees support,” said Eliot Seide, lead negotiator for AFSCME Council 5. “Our members earn an average of $36,000 a year. Like most Minnesotans, our wallets are empty after a trip to the gas station and pharmacy. We’re pleased that the employer has agreed that we deserve a raise to help offset inflation.”
The contract includes a 3.25 percent raise on July 1 of 2007 and 2008, AFSCME said. In the second year, workers who earn less than $14 an hour will get a 45-cent per hour raise – greater than the 3.25 percent that higher-paid workers will get.
This contract includes the largest raise that state employees have seen since 2002 – but it took a two-week strike in 2001 to get that raise from Governor Jesse Ventura, the union noted.
“Our members clearly agree that this is a good compensation package,” said MAPE Executive Director Jim Monroe. “We accepted some increased health-care costs, but our members will receive raises each year that they justly deserve for the excellent work they do for the citizens of Minnesota.”
MAPE members will receive 3.25 percent cost-of-living increases each year of the two-year agreement, retroactive to July 1. Additionally, there will be progression steps each year for those MAPE members who qualify.
Both unions said they held the line on increases in health care costs – the biggest issue in most contract negotiations for all unions in recent years.
“We will have increased out-of-pocket health-care costs, but we eliminated additional increases in the second year,” Monroe said. “To help curb out-of-pocket drug costs, the unions pioneered a new approach to managing the health-care prescription drug program. MAPE and AFSCME Council 5 negotiated this program in the previous contract and it will be implemented in January.”
It is conservatively estimated that the pharmacy benefit manager program will provide $5 million in savings to the health-care plan and members in the first year, he said.
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View a short video explaining the wage gap for university workers at
The protest will feature speakers addressing the union’s wage demands and a 12-foot tall rat to challenge how administrators can “RATionalize” huge increases for themselves, while front line workers fall further behind.
“Our unions have looked at the salary information for the last five years and concluded that the wages for our jobs have fallen almost 5 percent behind the rate of inflation,” said Greg Knoblauch, an activist with AFSCME Local 3937. “It will require an 8 percent increase this year to catch up, and 4 percent in the following year to keep up with inflation projections for 2008. We can’t afford to settle for less.”
University of Minnesota unions have been in contract negotiations for three months. Organizers say Wednesday’s rally will send a clear message to negotiators that workers are not willing to watch their standard of living continue to fall.
“This is not about the University of Minnesota being broke – it is about choosing not to pay living wages to front line staff,” said Barb Bezat, President of AFSCME 3937. She noted that 1,586 people at the university make over $100,000 each year.
“These folks have paychecks of around $5,000 every two weeks,” she said. “If each of those paychecks had been $22.87 less, our members would not be falling behind. The administration is making choices and they are the wrong ones.”
The next negotiating dates are Thursday and Friday, just a few weeks before classes resume at the university.
Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME 3800, warned, “Four years ago, clerical workers at the University of Minnesota went out on strike, rather than accept an unfair contract offer from the university,” said Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800.
“This year all of the university AFSCME unions are united in demanding better wages for our members. The university’s request for mediation has set the stage for a possible strike during the first week of classes unless a contract agreement has been reached before that.”