U unions step up campaign as strike approaches

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AFSCME members at the University of Minnesota are enlisting the help of lawmakers, students, other university workers and the community to build pressure for a fair settlement and avoid a strike. In the meantime, Teamsters Local 320 announced it had reached a tentative agreement covering its members at the university.

Some 3,500 clerical, technical and health care workers represented by AFSCME Locals 3260, 3800, 3801 and 3937 will strike Wednesday if a fair settlement is not reached, union leaders said. No bargaining is currently scheduled.

Teamsters Local 320 and the university administration, which also have been in negotiations for several weeks, reached a tentative agreement Friday covering 1,200 custodial and food service workers, the union said on its website. Details will be released at a union membership meeting Thursday.

A strike would disrupt the first week of fall classes and affect every department at the university, from clerical support for professors to library services, computer operations and hospital and clinic appointments.

AFSCME stepped up the pressure for a fair contract with a rally Thursday on the Minneapolis campus. Speakers included state Senator Patricia Torres Ray, City Council member Gary Schiff, representatives of religious organizations and students.

The unions and university administration are split over the issue of wages, with the administration maintaining it has offered 4.25 percent in each year of the two-year proposal, while AFSCME said the total is actually 2.25 percent for clerical and technical employees and 2.5 percent for health care workers.

The university wants to roll step increases into the overall compensation package while the union objects, saying “Our step increases represent the salary scale for our jobs. They are longevity increases. They are not cost of living increases.”

At the rally, Torres Ray said the Legislature allocated extra money to the university this year to increase employee pay.

“I am here to promise you that I will ask the tough questions at the Legislature and make sure your jobs are supported . . . It’s a matter of equity and fairness,” she told the workers.

State Senator Sandy Pappas, chair of the state Senate committee that oversees the university’s finances, also sent a letter of support.

Schiff said, “By standing together you are standing up for economic justice for all workers and I applaud you.”

Student speakers said they will educate other students about the issues in the bargaining, while non-union university staff pledged to wear buttons and engage in other activities to show solidarity.

History Professor Kirsten Fischer said she will move her 263-student survey course to a location off campus, rather than cross a picketline to teach.

Taking a stand will raise awareness in students, she said. “They need to know their world here at the university depends on the work you do.”

In preparation for a walkout, the union locals have set up a hotline, 612-234-8772, and a strike headquarters at University Baptist Church, 1219 University Ave. S.E., Minneapolis.

The union also announced a rally will be held at noon Wednesday in front of Morrill Hall, the main administration building on the university’s Minneapolis campus.

“You don’t go on strike lightly,” noted Joanne Pels, associate director of AFSCME Council 5, which includes the four university locals. “This is the ultimate sacrifice.”

For more information
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