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Workers protest poverty wages at the U of MN

By staff |
November 17, 2015
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University of Minnesota workers rally for raises and respect
University of Minnesota workers rally for raises and respect (Fight Back! News/Staff)
Teamster Mike Johnson (left) speaking at Nov. 17 rally for real raise
Teamster Mike Johnson (left) speaking at Nov. 17 rally for real raise with Mick Kelly of Teamster 320 negotiating committee

Minneapolis, MN - More than 350 workers on the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses of the University of Minnesota braved the rain, Nov. 17, to rally and picket for raises and respect for unionized staff at the U of MN. They were joined by university students, faculty and community members in calling for an end to the two university system - one where a few administrators at the top are getting rich, while the majority of frontline workers are falling further and further behind.

Members of U of MN AFSCME and Teamsters Local 320, which collectively represent over 4000 university workers, are currently in contract negotiations with the university. After six months of contract negotiations, the university’s wage proposals stand at between 0.25% and 0.75%.

Cherrene Horazuk, president of AFSCME 3800, the U of MN clerical workers, said, “It’s appalling that the university administration has spent over $2 million on raises, buyouts and settling sexual discrimination lawsuits for 11 people - eight men and three women. It's clear that the university has money to spend on the people at the top. They need to prioritize dignified salary increases and equitable leave benefits for the workers who make up the most diverse segment of the university workforce. 84% of clerical workers are female and 22% of unionized workers are people of color."

Horazuk continued, “$100,000 could provide $15-an-hour salaries for the clerical workers who make less than that. $175,000 could provide the six-week paid parental leave that is equivalent to what faculty and professional employees are given. $1.5 million could provide 2.5% salary increases to the more than 1600 clerical workers at the U who are living paycheck to paycheck."

Missy Bernard, clerical worker in the College of Education and Human Development, said, “The university’s offer of 0.375% equates to $0.54 per day for me. An increase of less than 1% does not even cover the cost of the gas it takes me to get to work, much less the cost of school lunches to feed my two children.”

Mick Kelly, member of Teamsters 320 negotiating committee said, “Right now there are 400 Teamsters at the U making less than $15 an hour. We insist on our right to a decent standard of living. We are tired of making due with less. We want and expect raises and respect."

Nasser Noor, Teamster and Senior Building and Grounds worker, said, "I clean 43 toilets every day in the dorm where I work. Workers like me make this campus a beautiful place for students to study and faculty to work. We deserve to be treated with respect and to be paid a good wage for the work we do."

The campus unions are also fighting for the same amount of parental leave that management receives. Unionized and civil service workers receive two weeks paid leave after the birth of a child, while management receives six weeks paid leave. Janel Mendoza, clerical worker on the University of Minnesota Morris campus, said, “When my youngest child was born, I had to rely on short-term disability to supplement my income. Faculty and professional employees receive 30 days paid leave. We receive ten. Tell me again, how this is fair? The idea that we do not deserve the same paid time off as them is absolutely shameful and infuriating.”

Mendoza continued, “Instead of relaxing and acclimating ourselves to our newfound parenthood, we are worried about how to make our house payment, or searching for a daycare will take our few weeks old infant.” Mendoza closed by saying, “Our children deserve the same time with us as those of faculty and professional employees. It’s high time the university closes the gap between the haves and have-nots.”

The informational pickets ended with union leaders expressing their commitment to continue the fight for raises and respect. Teamsters return to bargain next week, and AFSCME returns to the negotiating table in early December.