U of M workers: ‘Less than 1 percent won’t pay the rent’

Mary Austin, president of AFSCME Local 3937, reports on negotiations with the U of M during a rally outside Morrill Hall.

Mary Austin, president of AFSCME Local 3937, reports on negotiations with the U of M.

 

Unions representing about 4,000 workers in contract negotiations with the University of Minnesota took new momentum into a bargaining session today, after workers, students, faculty and other supporters rallied behind their fight for raises and respect.

“We’re only going to get what we’re organized to take,” Mick Kelly, a cook at Centennial Hall, said from the steps of Morrill Hall on the Twin Cities campus.

Workers are more organized than ever during this round of contract negotiations. Kelly’s union, Teamsters Local 320, planned the lunch-hour rally with four local AFSCME unions. Together, they represent clerical, technical, health care, facilities management, food service and other workers at U of M campuses across the state.

web.UofM-rally.crowdBut so far, talks with the university have made little progress. Unions report that management’s wage proposals amount to raises of less than 1 percent per year – “less than bus change,” Kelly said.

Workers’ top priorities also have met resistance, including equity in paid parental leave – administrators and faculty get six weeks, clerical workers two – and restoration of full funding for the Regents Scholarship, which supports tuition for workers’ dependents.

But what do workers mean by “respect”? Claire Thiele, a Teamster who works in the U’s veterinary lab, said it includes fair, honest sick-leave practices.

“My co-worker has two kids, she’s a single mother. Last winter they both got sick. They got her sick,” Thiele said. “She stayed home with them, and when she got back to work, she got written up by our bosses for using too much sick time.”

Frontline workers deserve better, students and faculty at the rally said, pledging their support for the contract campaign.

Grad studentCharmaine Chua: "Damn, my clerical workers are great! I am always learning from my clerical staff."

Grad studentCharmaine Chua: “Damn, my clerical workers are great! I am always learning from my clerical staff.”

Charmaine Chua, a graduate student at the Twin Cities campus, rolled off a long list of tasks – some in the job description, others not – that clerical workers in the political science department handle on daily basis. “You’re the invisible infrastructure that this university refuses to recognize,” Chua said.

“We know that the university wouldn’t run (without AFSCME and Teamsters workers), that it would shut down,” adjunct professor Michelle Lekas said. “(Administrators) need to know that too.”

AFSCME Council 5 Executive Director Eliot Seide warned U of M President Eric Kaler against pleading poverty in negotiations.

“It’s not right to give a $300,000 raise to the coach of the football team,” Seide said. “It’s not right to give a big raise to the coach of the basketball team, which when I last looked hadn’t even made it into the tournament. We should take that, Mr. President, and apply it to these contracts.”

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