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Clerical Workers Demand a Living Wage

by J Burger |
April 2, 2001
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Minneapolis, MN - More than 400 clerical workers showed up in the mid-February cold to celebrate the growth of their union and to kick off their contract campaign. The event coincided with the ten-year anniversary of the founding of AFSCME Local 3800 at the University of Minnesota.

University president Mark Yudof was invited to attend and speak. When he showed, the large crowd and their enthusiasm for the fight for a living wage caught him off guard.

"The president of the University has said in public that $12.00 an hour is not a living wage. We agree. If the University wants to start everyone at $12 an hour, great." said Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME local 3800. "We are going to push for progressive raises for our long term employees," she added.

Many clerical workers at the University of Minnesota work two jobs. Some work three. Wages have not risen in a way that makes a job at the University a living wage job.

"We have 20-year employees that do absolutely vital work for the day to day operation of the U, yet they have to work two jobs," said Mike Jung, chief steward for AFSCME local 3800.

Every two years the union and the bosses sit down and negotiate a contract. This time the union is fighting for more. There are 4 local AFSCME unions at the university on 4 campuses and they represent 3500 workers. As many as 35% of these workers make less than $12.00 an hour.

The employer uses the excuse that wages cannot be raised if the legislature doesn't find the money. This weak excuse is heard every year. Yet, every pet project that the management at the university wants funded, gets funded.

"Governor Jesse Ventura is standing in the way of the University's budget. His proposal came in lower than the University was bidding for. Nonetheless, clerical workers will be fighting for a living wage, Legislature funded budget, or not," said Michelle Lamere, a Local 3800 Executive Board member. "Our members can't wait for the political winds to shift - we need bread on our tables now."

Local 3800 has actively sought the input of their membership on what members would like to see in a contract. "Some of the proposals include hiring priorities for current employees. That means if a job opens up and our members are qualified, they have rights to the job. Currently the employer can hire off the street. We want this stopped," said Walker.

"We also have to change the subsequent probation; this is the corner stone for respecting the long-term employee," said Jung. "If a worker wants to move to a job in a different department they have to go through a six-month probation, all over again, even after years of service. This has got to go."

Like many workplaces throughout this country, demands for dignity on the job are important to the front line workers. "We get treated like we don't count, yet we know we do the work so this University can work."

There are reports that the University will be try to move away from the state health plan, a move that would be very expensive for University employees. "We cannot afford to pay extra money out of our pockets to pay for the doctor. Top management has openly said that they are going to push higher premium costs onto our backs through high co-pays and other means, and we won't stand for it," said Jung.

The budget will be passed through the legislature, and then the University will pass its budget through the regents some time this summer. "At this point in time it will be hard for the regents to not know we are here and that we are standing firm for our demands for a living wage, rule changes and no changes to our healthcare," said Phyllis Walker.

"We are going to ask every member to turn out to regents meetings, and support our negotiating committee. In the end, with enough pressure from the members, we can and will move forward," she added.

The local plans to rally for the living wage campaign and against the employer's intended healthcare take-back on May 1st at the University. Call or write to AFSCME 3800 for more information at (612) 379-3918.