AFSCME Testifies at Regents Public Budget Hearing

AFSCME 3800 members joined students and faculty in speaking out for a quality affordable education, good paying jobs, and affordable healthcare at the Board of Regents Public Hearing on the Budget on May 9.

Testimony of Cherrene Horazuk 

President of AFSCME 3800

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Cherrene Horazuk. I have worked at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs for 10 years and am the President of AFSCME 3800.

Between 2003 and 2013, Academic Administrative positions - mid and upper management, increased by 39% while unionized clerical jobs decreased by nearly 10%. During the same period, wages for management increased by 33%, compared to 25% for AFSCME wages. Eliminating low-paying Union jobs and replacing them with highly paid salaried positions flies in the face of common sense as a response to the ongoing financial challenges faced by the University.

In response to legislative questioning in the wake of the Wall Street Journal article, the Administration committed to freeze tuition and cut administrative costs by $15 million. This year, the Administration intends to cut $20 million.

We laud the tuition and fee freeze. Students shouldn’t leave a public university saddled with a debt load they’ll spend the rest of their lives paying off so that management can get private sector salaries.

We want to know, will you cut administration - management, or will you continue to cut front line staff while maintaining or increasing management?

Using one collegial unit as an example, last year, $99,000 was cut from the newly created “leadership” pool, while $180,000 was cut from the “support to mission” pool – where all front line, unionized jobs reside. That’s basically eliminating 3 front line staff and ½ or 1 administrator, based on average salaries and fringe. This year, the same collegial unit intends to cut $380,000 from “support to mission” and $130,000 from “leadership”. I doubt this unit stands alone in cutting direct support at nearly double the level of management. We ask for a full accounting of the $15 million in savings recognized this year and proof that the University is not once again balancing the budget on the backs of the lowest paid workers.

We call upon the U to prioritize and respect the people directly supporting the students and faculty that are at the core of the U’s mission. We offer a number of ways you can do this:

1.     Stop the costly and discriminatory background checks that treat new and transferring staff as potential criminals.

2.     Fully restore the Regents' Scholarship. This cost shift continues to impact staff and their promotional opportunities.

3.     Explore a sliding scale plan for employee health insurance. Raises are on a percentage basis, so why shouldn’t the employee portion of health insurance be, as well? Since 2003, management salaries have outstripped those of Union workers by more than 8%. By moving to a sliding scale, Union members would regain between one and four percent of their total annual salary - a significant increase for those who count pennies and live paycheck to paycheck University managers, on the other hand, would see the cost of their premiums increase by amounts ranging from one half to slightly less than two percent of their annual salary - a cost increase that is negligible at management salary levels. By choosing to pay slightly more for their insurance so that low paid staff and faculty can pay significantly less, University leaders can take an important step toward reducing historic inequities in wages at the U.

Finally, we call upon you to actually listen to rather than silence the staff, students, and faculty who are working to hold the University accountable and to make this a more diverse and respectful institution. If you had paid attention to what we were saying over half a decade ago, and instituted some of our recommendations, perhaps the U wouldn’t have been making headlines in the Wall Street Journal. The Board of Regents has the responsibility to hold the University administration accountable. It’s about time you put away the rubber stamp and start doing so.  

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Testimony of Sandi Sherman

AFSCME 3800 Representative to the Benefits Advisory Committee

Good afternoon. I am AFSCME Local 3800’s representative to the University’s Benefits Advisory Committee. I am speaking to you today about our frustration that the University administration has been completely unwilling - both in bargaining and in the Benefits Advisory Committee, to discuss any proposals that might mitigate the rising cost of health benefits that employees must pay.  I remind the Regents that I spoke to you last year in the budget hearing about the costs shifts that were placing an ever-increasing burden on employees, in terms of deductibles, and big increases in office and specialist visit copays. We were opposed to the cost-shifting and attempted to enlighten you about the burden that this places on staff whose paychecks are barely enough to make end meet. We suggested a variety of alternative ways to approach the health care issue.

In contract negotiations, AFSCME Local 3800 put forward a proposal for a sliding scale premium structure, based on income.  This is not a radical idea. The University of California system has it, Baylor has it, the University of Pennsylvania has it, and state employees in Illinois have it, to name a few. The administration told our union that it could not negotiate something that affected all employees during bargaining. They would not discuss it.

So, I, as a member of the BAC, decided to raise it there.  What was the response? We can’t discuss this in the BAC because it is being discussed at the negotiating table!  I felt like I was in a bad movie version of 1984!

When Vice-President Kathy O’Brien came to a BAC meeting, her excuse for not allowing discussion in the Benefits Advisory Committee was that the contracts with AFSCME had already been settled. This is so disingenuous that other members of the committee felt compelled to challenge this. We were asking for the opportunity to hear, from experts who had implemented a sliding scale plan, so we could learn about this alternative. We have been continually stonewalled to the point that now, our union plans to organize an educational forum where these experts will present their experiences.

I ask you, what is the administration afraid of? Why does it refuse to allow an employee committee that was set up to advise to the administration on benefits, the right to hear a presentation from other employers about their decision to adopt a premium structure based on wages so that we could consider whether this was a viable alternative that we might want to advise the administration to implement?! What message does this convey about how the administration really views all the faculty and staff consultative committees and senates it sets up?  BAC committee members asked this. Are we just focus groups – a place where the administration can test its plans before launching, or are we truly consultative? We think this stonewalling on the part of the administration gives us our answer to that question!

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Prepared statement from Teresa Shunk, President of AFSCME Local 3937

Please accept my apologies for not being able to attend in person; a family emergency has called me out of town.

In today’s world we are faced with pressing issues from unexpected family emergencies, juggling paying the bills, being productive at work and creating a sustainable environment.  I am a middle class single mother of two and I have worked here at the University of Minnesota for 16 years. Overall I have been proud to say that I work at the University of Minnesota.

However, recently I, as well as other employees, have noticed a change in how the front line staff members are treated. This includes everything from pay discrepancies, minimal pay increases, wage freezes, hiring freezes and out sourcing of University of Minnesota jobs to an increasing lack of respect for our work.

The University of Minnesota is a land grant institution that is the number 5 employer within the state. We are similar to a mid-size city. We would like to see the University remain a leader in keeping jobs in Minnesota. The recurring outsourcing of University jobs is wrong.

Minnesota is a wonderful state with great resources, and to see the University bypass many of those resources is deplorable.  For instance, the shift of the fire/life safety operations to another state has cost the constituents of Minnesota as well as the body of the University. Recent events bring to light the probability of real safety issues on campus.

Last month on the St. Paul campus there was a building that was on fire, not just smoke or something smoldering, but a real fire. There was a failure in the system of notification from the fire/life safety company. The discovery of the fire was by chance and the fire marshal who responded stated that had the fire gone undetected for much longer the building would have been a loss. In addition, false fire alarm calls have increased at a cost of city resources to the University that affect the overall budget. Had the fire/life safety not been outsourced this could have been alleviated - the employees of the University WHO USED TO DO THIS JOB have a vested interest in the University and have done their jobs efficiently for years. We care about the U and we care about our jobs.

We are the workers who do Emergency 911, Community Nutrition Education, IT and Telecom work- we keep the phones and the internet running; we staff the libraries; we monitor the HVAC, and critical research labs; we feed the research animals; provide sign language and captioned interpretation for faculty, staff, students and visitors  and so much more on campus. We say – KEEP OUR JOBS HERE. Out-sourcing the jobs and continuing to consolidate until workers cannot properly do their jobs is a poor choice and one that threatens the safety of anyone on campus.

We know that the economy is picking up and that the projected outlook for the University is on the rise. As a research institution the University of Minnesota has been a forerunner in research and in setting standards. I implore the University to carry that same mentality over to its treatment of the front line staff who make it possible for the researchers to do their important work, as well as to the faculty members who instill the learning skills that University students need to succeed.

Over the course of the years, front line workers have made sacrifices – we’ve experienced hiring freezes, freezes on wages, consolidation of jobs, increased duties and minimum pay increases. Keep in mind we are the front line staff and we keep the University the shining star that it is.

Thank you for your time

Teresa Shunk

President of AFSCME Local 3937

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