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AFSCME members at University of Minnesota rally for a decent contract

By staff |
September 26, 2021
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U of M AFSCME rallies for a decent contract.
U of M AFSCME rallies for a decent contract. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Minneapolis, MN - On September 22, around 150 AFSCME members at the University of Minnesota held a noon rally calling for the university to listen to their demands and offer real proposals to address issues the workers face around the pandemic and safety, rising costs of living, and racial and social justice at the university. The AFSCME members were joined by supporters from student groups, faculty, and other unions. The union members are fighting for language around several significant issues they face.

The union members are calling for meaningful flexibility around working from home, including a binding appeals process for refused work-from-home requests. The university’s official policy is that they maintain 50% in-person and 50% remote staffing and that they will work with the workers to make flexible plans. Yet most of the worker the union talks to report that they are being told to come in four out of five days and that if they don’t like it, they can quit their jobs. The current system is that if the worker wants to appeal the decision their supervisor makes, they are told to go to their supervisor’s supervisor about it, which has been ineffective in that the workers are appealing it to the same people who already made their decision.

They are also fighting for racial and social justice at the university around issues like hiring practices, to create a university that is more representative of the places in which the campuses are located, and for trans non-binary rights like access to bathrooms that are safe and accessible without having to walk several blocks outside to find a bathroom. The union also has proposals around essential pay for the essential workers who have and continue to risk their lives every day to come to work, and real raises for all that would help to keep up with the bills as inflation and cost of living rises at a rate not seen since the Reagan era.

Bea Chihak was an AFSCME member and clerical worker at the University of Minnesota until recently, when their supervisor informed them they were to report to work in person going forward. Chihak lives with a family member who is dying of cancer and another elderly relative and they let their supervisor know that they cannot safely return in person. Their supervisor told them that they understood and would support them fully if they decide to resign their position. Since then, Chihak has resigned over the lack of flexibility and now is unemployed as a result. Chihak had been performing all of their work duties fully from home until this point and many university clerical workers in many departments continue to do so to this day.

In a statement read aloud at the rally, Chihak said, “My supervisor met with me and a coworker and announced that our positions would be fully in person starting August 30. Outside of having an individual disability and going through the Disability Resource Center, there would be no accommodations. My supervisor told me, ‘If you have to resign from your position to be a caregiver for your mom, don’t feel bad.’ They went on to say, ‘No one should have to quit their job because a relative is dying. ‘Work. With Flexibility.’ [The university’s name for their current policy] is not flexible or humane. It is not getting creative or innovative about the future. It’s upholding a power imbalance between supervisors and workers. There has been no cross-campus dialogue about what equity looks like now, just commands.” Chihak also said, “For a lot of employees, especially lower income ones, the only options the university offers is to individually submit or rebel.”

After the rally, negotiations between the four AFSCME locals at the university continued with bargaining happening on Thursday, September 23, with no clear path to settlement in sight.

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