Protesters demand pay increases

by V. Paul

Five protesters, representing a range of University employees from the highest to the lowest paid, stood next to each other Friday at one end of a hallway outside the Board of Regents meeting room.
The lowest-paid worker — representing student employees — stood about three-quarters of the hallway away from a protester wearing a University President Mark Yudof mask.
Calling for a pay increase, clerical workers criticized the Board of Regents for raising Yudof’s salary to $325,000.
The protesters’ performance, called the “Human Graph,” was part of the opening salvo Friday from Local 3800 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
About 25 other University employees gathered in Morrill Hall to demand an increase in the base salaries of about 2,100 University clerical workers.
Clerical workers on average earn $13.41 per hour, and union members said most have to work extra jobs to make ends meet.
“It’s definitely at a crisis level,” said union President Phyllis Walker. “Clerical employees can’t work like this anymore.”
Walker said a union members’ strike, made up of classroom support staff including secretaries, office workers and clerks, might be organized.
And although the University agreed to increase clerical staff pay by 2.5 percent in July, state employees make about 13 to 15 percent more, said Sandi Sherman, a union spokeswoman.
“I don’t think the increases are all that bad,” Walker said. “It isn’t enough because of the fact that our salaries are so low to begin with.”
To some onlookers, Friday’s demonstration was not timed well.
The performance began a few minutes after a Board of Regents meeting, the intended audience. And according to one regent, the question of salary increases will not be addressed until the end of the next legislative session in May.
Walker said she knew contract negotiations were still a year away, but said she wanted to get the process started early enough to be successful.
Union officials asked early last week to be placed on the regents’ agenda. Instead, the board appointed Regent Robert Bergland to meet with the union leaders Dec. 9.
“(The regents’ role is to) be aware, be sympathetic,” Bergland said. “Better to be a year early than 20 minutes late.”
Walker plans to continue lobbying the regents and staging events on campus to raise awareness.

V. Paul Virtucio welcomes comments at [email protected]