U of M, unions to return to bargaining table

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UPDATED BY U unions step up campaign as strike approaches

The University of Minnesota and four local unions return to the bargaining table Wednesday for the first negotiations since workers authorized their leadership to call a strike that would impede the start of fall semester classes.

The state Bureau of Mediation Services is calling the parties together. The BMS, which oversees public employee collective bargaining, also ruled that a strike could not start until Wednesday, Sept. 5, rather than Tuesday, Sept. 4 – the date selected by the union. The BMS said the Tuesday date would not meet the 10-day notification requirement under the Public Employment Labor Relations Act.

“We are not daunted by this and are planning to be very visible in the work place on Sept. 4 if our contract is not settled before then,” AFSCME Locals 3260, 3800, 3801 and 3937 said in a joint statement. The four locals, representing 3,500 clerical, technical and health care workers, filed an intent to strike notice Friday.

“It is our hope that the University will come to the table ready to negotiate a settlement that we can all live with,” said Barb Bezat, president of Local 3937. “Our goal is to get a settlement, but if the university continues to short change us, our members have told us in no uncertain terms by their 72 percent reject-and-strike vote that they are ready and willing to strike. The ball is in the university’s court.”

Union members said the university’s wage offer does not keep pace with inflation and is unfair given the growing gap between salaries for clerical, technical and health care workers and top university administrators.

Every public employer in Minnesota put at least 3.25 percent plus step increases on the negotiating table, the union said. The University received a budget allocation from the state of 3.25 percent for each employee at the university plus an additional salary supplement that many other employers did not receive.

The university said its offer is 2.25 or 2.5 percent plus step increases.

The unions have been organizing in the work place and have set up a strike headquarters. In addition, a Community Support Committee has formed that will hold a rally at noon Thursday outside Morrill Hall, the main administration building.

“The response from the university community has been tremendously supportive,” said Jess Sundin, chair of the committee. “Students and professors understand that this is an issue of economic justice and respect. They understand that employees such as secretaries, veterinary technicians and medical assistants are the backbone of the institution and allow teaching and research to happen.”

For more information
Visit the unions’ websites, www.afscme3800.org, www.afscme3937.org, www.afscmemn.org and www.d.umn.edu/~afscme/

The AFSCME Local 3801 strike website is http://www.freewebs.com/labor/

For more on the support committee, go to www.uworkers.org

The U of M Office of Human Resources, http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/er/negotiations/afscmeproposal.html