Negotiations Update #5: We're worth more!



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U of M AFSCME Locals 3260, 3800, 3801, and 3937 returned to negotiations with the University of Minnesota Administration on July 17 and 18, facilitated by the Bureau of Mediation Services. Thanks to hundreds of emails from our members like you, the U moved off their ridiculous and insulting opening wage offer of 1/10th of 1%. This is a good start, but doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Before giving us their new wage proposal, Rachel Domaszek, the U’s lead negotiator, lectured us on the University budget process and cried poverty. She gave us incorrect info regarding the budget, stating that the University only has two revenue streams: the legislature and tuition. She also said that the Regents have already passed the budget for both years of our contract. We know that both of these things to be untrue.

When we met with the U’s Budget Director, Julie Tonneson, she told us that the legislature only provides about 17% of the University budget. In addition to tuition revenue and the legislative allocation, the University has a significant endowment that provides $21 million in unrestricted funds. The U also receives significant grant funding and many staff salaries are on soft funds. The U also receives income from real estate holdings and a number of other sources.

We also know from a meeting with Ken Horstman, Director of Employee Benefits, that the U has had $29 million in savings off of our health insurance plan since 2002, and that those savings go into the general fund.

We reminded the U’s negotiators that the U is going public in September with a massive fundraising effort that plans to raise $4 BILLION for the University. Their claims of poverty when it comes time to provide raises for frontline staff are disingenuous at best.

The U’s current wage offer is a 1% general increase (also called an across the board increase) for technical and health care workers and a 1.5% increase for clerical workers. Their offer is based on a 2% budget for the fiscal year, but they do not want to make raises retroactive to the beginning of the fiscal year.

Regarding year two: On the 17th, they said there was no money budgeted for year two of the contract and said their would be a hard freeze, meaning no general increases OR step increases. On the 18th, their proposal says “no change to the salary schedule”, meaning that there is not a proposed hard freeze and that steps will be paid per the contract. They also stated that “if the U establishes a salary increase pool that includes Civil Service”, the U would be open to reopening negotiations on wages. In other words, they have tied union staff and Civil Service staff salaries together, and if we agreed to this, the U could give raises to P&A and faculty, those at the top with the highest salaries at the U, while leaving behind those at the middle and bottom. It is absolutely unacceptable to increase the gap between haves and have nots at the U!

Our union’s wage proposals remain at 5% for each year of the contract. We also maintain our proposal to fix our steps so that it doesn’t take decades to get to the top of the pay scale. Kari Seimi, one of the U negotiators, acknowledged that “it is ridiculous that somebody isn’t at the top of the scale after 39 years,” and asked us to provide a proposal for what we want. We are providing them with specific proposals to reduce the number of steps and to increase the top of the scales.

We did make some small headway on language proposals. The University has agreed to include gender identity and gender expression in our non-discrimination clause - a proposal that we have made for the last three rounds of bargaining. They also agreed to include the right to work in a “respectful” environment, though they are still refusing to include the mutually agreed upon definition of bullying in the contract. The U is also considering some fixes to the sign-language interpreter scheduling process, and on-call pay for clerical workers in certain departments on a trial basis.

The U is still refusing a number of top priorities, however, including: six-weeks paid parental leave for all parents regardless of gender or birth parent status, full restoration of the Regents Scholarship, union leave for the Health Care president that equals what is provided to the other locals, and paid bereavement leave so that people don’t need to use sick or vacation leave to mourn the death of a loved one. The U has refused to move on any of these issues to date.

The U is also refusing to meet with us any longer as a joint committee of all AFSCME locals. Though the law says the mediator must encourage the parties to do area-wide bargaining, they cannot be forced to do so. Though we will be meeting separately, we continue to stand united and will coordinate all bargaining and contract campaign activities. We also stand united with our Teamster coworkers and unionized faculty members on the Duluth and Crookston campuses, who are also in negotiations. We know that we are stronger together. Healthcare and technical workers are back in bargaining the week of August 21, and clerical workers return to bargaining on September 6.

We are standing together for our standard of living and invite all of you to join us. Wear your AFSCME t-shirt every Friday in solidarity with your coworkers and our union. Continue to let the Administration know that we are worth more! Go to AFSCME3800.org or AFSCME3937.org for more information or to get involved.