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Rally demands raises and respect: ‘U of MN, your crummy offer is still too small!’

By staff |
September 30, 2015
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Cherrene Horazuk, president of AFSCME 3800 speaking at rally
Cherrene Horazuk, president of AFSCME 3800 speaking at rally (Fight Back! News/Staff)
Mick Kelly, a member of the negotiating committee for Teamsters 320
Mick Kelly, a member of the negotiating committee for Teamsters 320 speaking at Sept 29 rally

Minneapolis, MN - More than 250 university workers, students, faculty and community allies rallied at the steps of Morrill Hall at the University of Minnesota, Sept. 29, to demand raises, respect and a good contract for frontline workers.

The rally was organized by University Unions United - AFSCME Locals 3800, 3801, 3937, 3260 and Teamsters Local 320 - which collectively represent 4000 clerical, technical, health care and building and service workers at the University of Minnesota. The unionized workers are in contract negotiations with the university administration. After nearly four months of negotiations, the administration is proposing raises of less than 1%, which amounts to 7to 15 cents an hour. AFSCME and Teamsters are calling for a $15 minimum wage and raises that will allow workers to get ahead.

Cherrene Horazuk, president of AFSCME 3800 - the clerical workers union - called for an end to the ‘two university system,’ where a few at the top get rich while those at the bottom languish in poverty. 223 administrators at the university, the vast majority of whom are white men, make more than $150,000 per year, while nearly 500 unionized workers, mostly women and people of color, make less than $15 an hour.

Horazuk said, “The Board of Regents are debating a compensation policy which would allow them to give $100,000 incentives to managers, while the raises being offered to frontline workers won’t even cover bus fare, one-way, off-peak.”

Mick Kelly, a member of the negotiating committee for Teamsters 320 told the crowd, “We will only get what we are organized to take. The U will not listen to reason. It’s what we do that counts.”

Solidarity and support for the frontline workers was expressed by prominent trade union leaders, including Brian Aldes, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters 320, and Eliot Seide, Director of AFSCME Council 5, representing 43,000 workers statewide. Seide gave a fiery speech and led the attendees in chanting, “Who does the work? We do!” Pat Guernsey, President of AFSCME Local 552 - Hennepin County Probation Officers - offered the solidarity of Hennepin County workers, who are also in a contract battle, and said, “We know as a union that we are stronger together!”

Banners and t-shirts from many other unions could be seen in the crowd, including St. Paul Federation of Teachers, Education Minnesota, SEIU, Communication Workers of America, ATU 1005, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, MN AFL-CIO.

Heartfelt thanks was given to the frontline workers from Charmaine Chua, a graduate student in the Political Science Department, who talked about the day in the life of a grad student, and the many ways clerical workers helped make her research possible. Gratitude and solidarity was also expressed by Manu Berduc, an undergraduate student and member of Students for a Democratic Society, and Michele Lekas, contingent faculty member, who is helping to organize a faculty union at the University with MN Academics United.

Cherrene Horazuk ended the rally by saying, “In its strategic plan, the university is asking its best researchers and brightest minds to solve society’s grand challenges, and hopes to answer the question, ‘How will we ensure just and equitable societies?’ The administration should start by ensuring a just and equitable university.”

Rally participants then marched to a nearby building where clerical contract negotiations were taking place. Horazuk invited people to join the bargaining session, where rank-and-file workers would be giving their personal testimonies to the university negotiating committee. Two dozen people joined the bargaining session. Clerical workers talked about the importance of dignified wages, equitable parental leave, restoration of the regents scholarship and an end to workplace bullying.

Janel Mendoza, member of the bargaining committee and clerical worker on the University of Minnesota Morris campus, spoke about parental leave. Unionized and civil service workers receive two weeks paid leave after the birth of a child, while management receives six weeks paid leave. The unions are fighting for the same leave that management receives. Mendoza said, “When my youngest child was born, I had to rely on short-term disability to supplement my income. Short-term disability only covers 66. 67% of our already low pay - for an Office Support Assistant, we are talking $9.61 an hour. After nine months of satisfactory employment, 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 professionals and faculty is absolutely shameful and infuriating.”

Mendoza continued, “We must plan, prepare, work and save up enough time so that we can have the same time off given to faculty and professionals. We must earn our time to spend with our newborns. 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.”