Union 101: Questions and Answers about AFSCME 3800

Are you a new clerical worker who has never worked in a unionized workplace? Or have you been at the U for 10 or 15 years but have questions about your union that you've never had the opportunity to ask? 

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Questions include:

·      What is a union?

·      Why do we have unions at the University?

·      How do I become a member?

·      Why is it important I become a member of the union?

·      Does being “pro-union” mean that you are anti-University?

·      Do I have to dislike my boss if I’m involved in the union?

·      What has “the union done for me”?

·      What are the benefits of being a member?

·      Can I wait to sign a card?

·      Will I get a $10 an hour raise if I join the union?

·      My boss says she’d give me a raise, but the Union won’t allow it. What’s up with that?

·      Why do civil service employees get the same benefits and wage increases as us without having to pay dues?

·      Where the heck do my dues go?

·      Who runs the Union?

·      If I’m a member, do I have to come to meetings?

·      How do I get more involved?

·      I need help, whom do I call?

What is a union?

It is an organization by which ordinary people come together to accomplish extraordinary things such as better wages, benefits, respect on the job and a stronger voice in workplace discussions.  With the help of a union, workers collectively negotiate a contract with their employer to ensure these things. The power of the union to win better contracts and workplaces is based in the membership. The stronger the membership: the better our contract.

As union members at the University, we work in every department on every campus. As individuals we have very little control over our working lives but as a group we make this University work. Through organization and active participation in the union we can exercise some control over the employer’s treatment of our peers and ourselves.  Without a union, employers have 100% control over its employees and complete authority to make all decisions.

Why do we have unions at the University?

As U of M employees, we organized our Union around a simple idea: Every employee should have the opportunity to participate in making the decisions that affect her or his working life. The basic idea behind a union is that we have shared interests and goals with our co-workers: whether you’re a Payroll Specialist, Assistant DGS, Administrative Assistant, or Classroom Scheduler, we all want a better contract with raises and job security. We want our benefits protected and we want a fair and dignified work environment. Rather than standing alone, we’re a lot stronger when we stand together and take collective action. Our union puts that wisdom into action. With that in mind, we are committed to helping the University remain a quality employer. Through active participation, we as union members define the terms of our working conditions, in the hope that the University will honor its mission as a land grant institution providing equitable educational opportunities to all Minnesotans.

How do I become a member?

All you have to do is sign a membership card, available at new employee orientation or by contact a union steward or assembly member in your area, or call our local office. As a union member, you are joining with your co-workers from across the University to exercise a voice in your work place. You are making a commitment to maintaining quality public jobs. You are also sending a message to the Administration that you believe that clerical workers here at the University should have a strong voice.

Why is it important I become a member of the union?

The first thing the University administration does when they bargain with our union is look at how many of us are actually members. This tells them how much support the Union has and the more members we have, the more serious the U will be in bargaining with us. If our membership is low, the administration will think we are disorganized or don’t care and they will be able to push through their agenda. Becoming a member is the simplest way to say to the administration, “I deserve dignified treatment and a raise.”

Does being “pro-union” mean that you are anti-University?

It is not ungrateful or disloyal to want a voice in our workplace. Many of us are University graduates and many of us have worked for most of our careers at the U. We are deeply committed to the University’s land grant mission of teaching, research, and service for the betterment of the state of Minnesota. We are also deeply committed to ensuring that the University is a good and respectful place to work for all employees. Being in a union gives us a collective voice with which to speak up in support of the best of the University, and to speak out against the things that we believe weaken the University’s mission.

Where there isn’t a union, management retains the legal right to make all decisions regarding the workplace. Benefits including pay, pensions, health care, severance, vacations, and holidays – can be arbitrarily cut without notice to employees. With a union, benefits and other working conditions cannot be changed at the drop of a hat; they have to be negotiated, and the members of the union are able to vote for or against proposed changes. 

Do I have to dislike my boss if I’m involved in the union?

No. Many of us are fortunate to have skilled supervisors and departments that we enjoy working in. The common denominator is that we are treated with respect, the work we do is valued and rules are applied equally without arbitrariness or the playing of favorites. Having a union ensures that rules are followed and that rules are developed in negotiations or consultation with the staff they affect. Unfortunately, some of us do not have skilled supervisors, and instead are treated disrespectfully, are discriminated against, or are bullied. Being a part of a union gives us protection from arbitrary supervisory actions relating to unfair performance evaluations, discipline and dismissals. In addition, our contract includes a problem-solving mechanism that addresses workplace issues before they become bigger problems. This allows us to highlight best practices of good supervisors and ensure that we all have a respectful workplace.

What has "the Union done for me?"
Clerical workers at the University of Minnesota formed our union in 1991 to ensure that we had dignity and a voice in the workplace. We are 90% women, and have historically had some of the lowest paying jobs at the U. Many of us went years without a pay increase, and others were in “temporary” positions for years at a time. Since we came together and formed our union, we have won contract language that ensures temporary positions are just that – temporary, and that our jobs are permanent appointments that offer stability and security. Many of us started out in positions that barely paid above the minimum wage. Our union organized a living wage campaign that won the highest starting salary at any public university in the country. New clerical workers are now guaranteed a starting salary of at least $15.23 an hour, with most positions starting at over $15.70 an hour. We also have guaranteed annual salary increases (steps), which recognize the experience we gain each year in our positions. We also organized and won a partial restoration of the Regents’ Scholarship for ALL University employees. We will continue to push for a full restoration of these benefits. We also work to ensure that all clerical workers have a respectful workplace that is free of bullying.


What are the benefits of being a member?

A VOICE in YOUR Union: Only AFSCME 3800 members can vote in union elections. These include determining leadership – Officers, Executive Board members, Assembly members, and Negotiating Committee members – and determining whether to strike or ratify contracts.

A Stronger Voice at the U of MN: By becoming a member of AFSCME 3800, you will strengthen the voice of workers who want to build a better University of MN. This includes enforcing our contracts, winning higher wages and more secure benefits, and efforts to make this University responsive to all Minnesotans, not just business interests.

Scholarships, Discounts and Other Services: AFSCME members and their families have exclusive access to scholarships; insurance, credit counseling and legal services; and discounts on wireless phone services, health clubs, car rentals, restaurants, and many other products. 

Can I wait to sign a card?

Yes, absolutely. The union is a voluntary association. Each member decides when she or he will become a full member. Waiting to sign your card sends a message, though, that your wages, benefits, and working conditions and that of your coworkers aren’t that important to you.

Will I get a $10 an hour raise if I join the union?

Well, no, probably not. But we were able to get our minimum wage raised from $7 to $12 (now $15.23) an hour by working together. If we stand together, we can achieve anything we want. We can fix the wage scales to reflect our need for a truly Livable Wage. We can not just defend our wages and benefits, but improve them. But our strength is in our numbers and each member matters.

My boss says she’d give me a raise, but the Union won’t allow it. What’s up with that?

Our union is not in control of the University finances. We do not control the budget. Nor do most supervisors control the finances in any given department. It is often an excuse by a supervisor or the HR personnel in a department to say that the union won’t let them give you more money. As a union, we have no vested interest in one of our members earning less money, unlike administrators at either the local or University level who do have a vested interest in keeping our salaries low.

As a union, we do negotiate wages, benefits, vacation, sick leave, layoff protections, and other terms and conditions of our employment with the University. Our contract is a mutual agreement between the union and the Board of Regents and needs to be followed by both parties. The contract includes two regular salary increases for all clerical worker. The first is an across the board increase which is generally given on the first pay period of each fiscal year. The amount of this increase is determined in contract negotiations and can vary from contract to contract. This increase has varied from 0% during tough economic times to 2-3%. The current contract includes a 1.5% increase in July 2015 and a 1.5% increase in July 2016. The other contractual increase is a step increase of 2% that clerical workers receive automatically each year on their anniversary date until they reach the top of the pay scale. Step increases are meant to recognize the increased skill and experience that workers develop in their position.

In addition to these regular increases, there are several contractual methods for increases, including reclassification, temporary increases for work out of classification, and in-range adjustments. As a union, our goal is twofold: to get our members as much as money as we can, and secondly, to ensure that the increases people receive are fair and equitable. We are always willing to discuss ways of getting our members more money. We are not in favor of departments playing favorites, however. Clerical work has traditionally been viewed as women’s work, and as such has been discounted and disrespected. Many women also undersell and undervalue their work. Because of this, we believe in collectively negotiating our wages, rather than leaving it up to each person to individually convince their supervisor or their supervisor’s supervisor of their worth.

Why do civil service employees get the same benefits and wage increases as us without having to pay dues?

Unionized staff have a contractual guarantee of wages, benefits, and terms and conditions of work. Non-unionized staff do not have that contractual guarantee and the University can change the rules of the game for these staff at any time. The move to merit pay, for example, is not something that civil service staff have any say in. They were simply told that this was happening. The administration likes to have this flexibility, and therefore, has worked to ensure that civil service and P&A staff, as well as faculty and graduate students don’t unionize.  Only 25% of the workforce at the University is unionized. However, unionized staff set the standards for salary increases and benefits for the rest of the University when we negotiate. If the University gave non-unionized staff (civil service, for example) less in wages and benefits than unionized staff, this would be a compelling reason for those staff to unionize, which would reduce management’s flexibility to institute policies and practices. Furthermore, many of the issues that we fight for are beneficial for University staff as a whole. The U has one health insurance model for all employees. Non-unionized staff and faculty have no real say in the plan. We negotiate the percentage paid for insurance premiums, however. Also, due to our union’s efforts, we were able to partially restore cuts the administration made to the regents scholarship for all staff, and in the past to reduce the number of furlough days from the original 10-day proposal to 3 days. If other staff and faculty at the U were unionized, we would have an even stronger collective voice.

Where the heck do my dues go?

Union dues and fees are roughly divided three ways:

·      30% goes to the International Union

·      60% goes to Council 5, our statewide AFSCME

·      10% goes to our local

The vast majority of the money goes to what is considered “servicing the contract” – negotiations, enforcement (grievances, etc.), and educating and organizing our membership related to terms and conditions of our work. Because state law requires that we negotiate on behalf of all clerical workers, whether they are members or not, the law allows us to collect up to 85% of the membership dues rate from non-members for their fair share of contract servicing. The 10% that goes to our local union (AFSCME 3800) is democratically determined through discussions in executive board and membership meetings. None of our money goes to electoral candidates. The International and Council have a separate PEOPLE fund established for those who would like to contribute to electoral efforts.

Who runs the Union?
AFSCME 3800 is a member-run, member-powered union built on having a voice both on the job at the U of M, as well as in our union. Decisions are made by members and member participation has been the key to our successes. Members decide collectively what our focus should be in contract negotiations, what we spend our dues money on, what position our union is going to take on the important issues of the day, and what organizations in our communities we are going to work with and support. Our commitment to democratic and transparent decision making is what sets us apart from many other unions. Only members can vote on whether or not we should go on strike, on electing our Union’s leadership – like President, Executive Board and Negotiating Committee Representatives, or on accepting or rejecting contracts. To have a voice in our union and be part of the decision making process you simply need to be a member of AFSCME 3800.

Each of the officers and executive board members of our local union work at the University and are elected by the membership.  Any member who has been in good standing for one year or more may run and hold an elected position in the union. Our active members direct the activities of our union through their involvement at membership, assembly, and area meetings and committee work. This is one of the most critical parts of being a union member.

If I’m a member, do I have to come to meetings?

No. By becoming a member, you have the right to fully participate in your union – voting on contracts, electing leadership, running for leadership, choosing what we spend money on. You also have the right to not participate, however. You can determine how active you want to be. Some people are very active and come to all meetings and events. Others come to most meetings. Many share union info with their coworkers. Others only vote on contract proposals. Still others are members who only participate by paying full dues. Each of these things is important. We encourage people to get involved to the extent that they have time and interest. But the level of involvement is up to each person.

How do I get more involved?

Our union is strongest when everyone is everyone is connected and sharing ideas, experiences and information. The first step towards a better contract and working life at the University is becoming a member of your union. All that involves is signing a membership card. From there, you can attend meetings, join our Assembly, involve your coworkers, become a steward and even run for office. There are many opportunities for you in our union. Every contribution you can make is valuable. Make sure you check the website to keep up on regular activities.

Membership Meetings are where the official business of our union happens. The last half hour is an educational presentation and discussion. We meet the 4th Tuesday of the month from 5:15 to 7:00 pm, and on-campus locations rotate monthly.

Assembly Meetings are where strategizing and campaign discussions happen. This all-campus meeting is conducted via video conferencing and happens periodically over the lunch hour. Contact the Local office at afscme3800@gmail.com or at 612-379-3918.

I need help, whom do I call?

First, call our Steward Line at or our local office at 612-379-3918. Our Chief Steward, Rosetta Chears, will arrange for you to speak with a steward in your area. A steward is a co-worker who has been trained to assist employees in solving workplace problems and to enforce and protect the contract. A union contract helps ensure equal treatment on the job.  In addition to salary and benefits we have contract language that sets out certain aspect of the terms and conditions of our employment. Some of those aspects include representation and an established grievance procedure in the case of disciplinary action. More importantly our union gives us access to a community of coworkers that have experience we can draw on for support. This support is provided in part by trained union stewards. Under a union contract the employer has to respect the process and cannot change the rules on a whim or play favorites in the workplace.