Contract Negotiations Update #2

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A. Update on Day Two of Negotiations:

On Tuesday, July 9, our clerical negotiating committee met with the University of Minnesota’s management committee. We heard the University’s opening wage and health insurance proposals and their first response to our language proposals. Our committee also gave the University our opening wage proposal. 

We expected to receive a proposal from the University that recognized the sacrifices that clerical workers have made over the past five years due to the economic crisis. Instead, the U proposed a general increase that averages 14 cents an hour per person. They also proposed significant increases in health insurance copays – from $15 to $25 for primary care, a first-time ever health insurance deductible, and the merging of the employee plus spouse/same-sex domestic partner tier of insurance into the more expensive family tier.

A 14 cent an hour (.75%) raise works out to $24.27 a month before taxes, and would not even cover the cost of one copay at the proposed higher rates. The University’s wage and health insurance proposals would result in clerical workers going backwards financially. This is unacceptable.

Our opening wage proposal, on the other hand, aims at making up economic ground clerical workers have lost during the economic crisis, and has us moving forward financially. We proposed an across the board (general) increase that averages $1.88 an hour per person. We also proposed a restructuring of the step system so that there would only be 15 steps to reach the top of the wage scale. Additionally, we proposed eliminating the bottom two steps and adding two steps at the top.

B. Health Insurance Cost Shifting:

The University Administration’s insurance shifts costs to workers and significantly raises out of pocket costs, particularly for people with chronic health issues.

All University employees would face increases in deductibles and co-pays if the changes proposed by the Administration are implemented.  You can read more about these proposed changes in AFSCME’s Talking Paper #2: Health Insurance at the University of Minnesota.

We believe that this proposal is not a result of the Affordable Care Act. It is another example of the University Administration’s decision-making that, over the long term, deliberately shifts costs to the most economically vulnerable workers at the U and those who most need quality health care – those workers who have chronic health conditions.  These cost shifts are devastating to the University’s lowest paid workers.

We're asking all University employees to sign our petition saying no to these cost shifts. You can find the petition here.

In discussions at the Benefits Advisory Committee, we have been told that there is no evidence that University employees are choosing not to seek medical care due to rising health care costs. If you have ever made a decision to not continue a prescription, or to not see a doctor or specialist due to out of pocket or premium costs, please consider adding this information when you sign the petition. The University's leadership needs to understand the hardship that lower paid workers face when health costs increase.

We call upon the University Leadership to ensure that all employees make real economic progress and that our health care plan be accessible and affordable for all employees. We call upon the University Leadership to institute a wage-based sliding scale healthcare premium plan where those who make more and are able to pay more for insurance do so and that those who make less pay less. It’s a simple matter of fairness. Please share our Talking Paper with your coworkers and encourage them to sign the petition for affordable and accessible health care for all University employees.

C. Why didn’t clerical workers receive raises on our last paycheck?

Unionized workers negotiate our raises, rather than just having them determined and imposed from above (which is what happens with faculty, P&A and Civil Service staff). The upside of this is that we can and do push for more than what is merely budgeted. The challenge is that the U generally won't even talk about wages until the state allocation has been determined and the budget has been ratified by the Board of Regents (which takes place in June). Negotiations began in June, and we received the University’s opening wage and insurance proposals on July 9. We are scheduled to return to the table on Monday, July 22.

We will receive our across the board (or general) salary increases once our new contract has been fully negotiated and voted on by our membership. Raises will then be retroactive to July 1. Usually, we reach an agreement in mid fall. Once the contract has been agreed upon by our members and the Board of Regents, people will receive back-pay for the salary increases from July 1 to whatever the ratification date is. 

D. Step increases:

In the last round of contract negotiations two years ago, we fought successfully to ensure that our step increases would remain in the contract. This means that all clerical workers who are not at the top of the scale will receive their 2% step increases automatically on their anniversary date. If you do not receive your step on your anniversary date, please let us know.