U of M strike ends, but union vows to fight on


AFSCME members have ended their strike at the University of Minnesota and are returning to work, the union announced Friday.

After 15 hours of mediation Thursday, the union negotiating committee decided to take the university administration’s offer to members without a recommendation on how to vote.

The two-year contract offer contains a 2.25 percent cost-of-living increase for clerical and technical workers, a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for health care workers, plus steps to reward longevity and a $300 lump sum in each year. Workers who don’t receive step increases will get an additional $300 in each year. The offer is the same as that submitted by the university a week before.

At a news conference, union representatives said they made every attempt to negotiate a contract, but the university kept changing the parameters of a settlement – making it impossible to reach agreement.

“We’re forced back to work because we can no longer sustain the loss of salary and a looming end to our health care coverage,” said Denise Osterholm, president of UMD Local 3801. “A typical striker earns $34,000 a year and qualifies for food stamps if supporting a family of four. We remain shocked by the administration’s absolute disregard for its workers.”

Due to inflation, someone starting work under this contract will earn 8 percent less than someone who started the job in 2003, the union said.

“This offer is unfair because it fails to keep up with inflation,” said Rhonda Jennen, president of Health Care Local 3260. “The U is choosing to impoverish some of its workers. World class universities don’t treat their workers like second class citizens.”

“The university should be ashamed that its workers can’t afford to attend or send their kids to the University,” said Barb Bezat, president of Technical Local 3937.

“While we have a great commitment to the University of Minnesota as an institution, we’ve been treated with disrespect and disregard by the current administration,” said Bezat.

In a statement e-mailed by the university, President Robert Bruininks said, “We are pleased this strike has ended and appreciative of the union’s willingness to take this proposal to their membership for a vote.

“Striking workers will be returning to their jobs as early as tomorrow. We look forward to their return and coming back together as a community.”

Shortly before the news conference, 11 students and three university faculty and staff ended their hunger strike in support of the workers. Graduate instructor Isaac Kamola said all were doing well.

“It’s been a really hard five days for us, but it’s been a really hard three weeks for AFSCME,” he said.

Phyllis Walker, president of Local 3800, thanked “the many thousands across the state who have given us support” and said the union will build on the solidarity created among its members during the strike.

“AFSCME is going back to work, but our fight is just beginning,” she said.

See the Workday Minnesota special section on the U of M strike