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U of MN clerical union wins $15 wage and 6 weeks maternity leave

By staff |
December 16, 2015
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U of M workers marching for raises and respect.
U of M workers marching for raises and respect. (Fight Back! News / Staff)

Minneapolis, MN - After six difficult months of contract negotiations with management and a hard-hitting contract campaign targeting the inequality of “Two Universities,” the union of 1500 clerical workers at the University of Minnesota, AFSCME 3800, won a tentative agreement Dec. 10. The clerical workers’ negotiating committee characterized the agreement as a breakthrough for workers which is better than any contract they’ve won in the past decade.

According to the clerical negotiating committee, the tentative agreement includes:

  • $15 starting wage for all clerical workers
  • Six weeks paid maternity leave
  • A Memorandum of Understanding on workplace bullying
  • 1.5% across the board wage increases each year, plus 2% annual steps
  • 1.5% wage increase in year one and 2% wage increase in year two for those at the top of their wage scale
  • No cost increases in health care

This marked a shift, since during the past decade the union has been in defensive fights trying to stop university management from pushing through wage freezes and health insurance cost increases. The union has also faced intransigence on all proposals to improve work conditions and rules.

While frontline university workers have seen their standard of living slide, administrators and athletics coaches have seen huge salary increases. This pattern has continued year after year. But this year during contract negotiations, things were different. The unions at the university said ‘enough is enough’ and jointly waged a campaign for Raises and Respect. The four AFSCME union locals and the Teamsters local at the university worked closely together throughout the campaign, refusing to allow management to divide them or divert them from their central message that there must be raises and respect for workers at the university this year.

The joint AFSCME and Teamsters 320 campaign highlighted the income disparities and disparate treatment between the Two Universities: the university that is experienced by the low-wage workforce and the very different university that exists for those at the top. The workplace-based campaign lasted almost a year. Workers created visibility for the union and their demands in the workplace, and then repeatedly took their demand for raises and respect to university management. The campaign included hundreds of workers wearing union shirts every Friday to work, workers giving testimony to the university Board of Regents and to state legislators, workers delivering thousands of petitions to university President Eric Kaler, repeated letters and editorials in the Minnesota Daily and other media, and several rounds of informational picketing and protests. Management certainly got the message that the unity between the unions was strong, and that a significant number of workers would consider voting to strike if they didn’t get a contract with raises and respect.

Throughout this year the university administration has been embroiled in a series of scandals, with several revolving around sexism and harassment in the workplace. Since the clerical union members are overwhelmingly female, the context of these scandals gave clerical workers’ demands for respect added force this year. In this context the union was able to make progress on two key demands that the administration had never before been willing to discuss: increasing paid maternity leave for clerical workers from two weeks to six weeks, and a memorandum of understanding on workplace bullying. The workplace-based campaign also led to the breakthroughs on wages: winning a $15 per hour minimum wage, and getting a larger annual wage increase than management had been willing to consider in six months of bargaining, and a larger percentage increase than other non-unionized employee groups.

According to AFSCME 3800 President Cherrene Horazuk, “For six months, the U of M administration said they only had 0.5% for raises for 1500 clerical workers, even though they spent over $2 million on raises, contract buyouts and the settlement of sexual discrimination lawsuits for eleven coaches and vice-presidents. They also told us that two weeks parental leave was good enough for our families, even though management gets six weeks leave. But our campaign for raises and respect in the workplace bore fruit. Through our struggle, we made a breakthrough that will improve the lives of thousands of workers.”

A statement from the clerical bargaining committee said, “Along with our sisters and brothers in Teamsters 320 and AFSCME locals 3801, 3260 and 3937, we fought like hell for ‪raises and respect from the university administration, and as a result, we won a contract that addresses three of our top five priorities.”

Teamsters and the other AFSCME locals also recently settled their contracts, winning six weeks paid maternity leave and similar raises to the clerical union.

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