Returning AFSCME employees feel tension at work

Tom Moran

Co-workers who were on opposite sides of picket lines not long ago are now separated by thin cubicle walls.

Since returning to work a little more than a week ago, workers for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union have found their workplace altered.

Union members who went on strike said they have felt tension after returning to work with co-workers who stayed on the job.

Mike Toft, an employee at McNamara Alumni Center who went on strike, said the tension has made the workplace quiet and low-key. He said the discomfort is hard to deal with because, for many people, the ideals behind the strike were important.

“It quickly becomes about more than just money,” Toft said.

The level of unease varies throughout the departments on campus.

Breanne Strom, an employee at Wilson Library who went on strike, said she felt tension but that everyone has acted professionally.

“I think the return has been handled well – very maturely,” Strom said.

Michele Chilinski, an employee at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs building, worked during the strike because of financial concerns.

She said she hasn’t felt ill will from strikers during or after the strike.

Steve Schaus, an employee in the Humphrey building who went on strike, said workers in the building feel compassion for all

AFSCME members whether they were on the picket lines.

“Overall, it’s each person’s decision and I’ll still support them,” Schaus said.

However, among University employees the strike has been a difficult subject to mention.

Most union members who went on strike said they haven’t talked much, if at all, about the strike with co-workers who stayed on the job.

The conversations that have occurred were between close friends in the workplace, Chilinski said.

Toft said he thinks co-workers will eventually be able to talk about the issue, and when those conversations come he expects the tension will fade.

Common opinions

Those union employees who were on opposite sides of the picket line don’t disagree on everything.

A theme iterated by both sides was a relief that strikers had returned to work. Many strikers said they loved their jobs and were happy to be helping University students once again.

During the strike, the workplace was busier than normal and they are still trying to catch up, Chilinski said.

Some members on both sides have voiced that they are still disgruntled.

“I feel disillusioned with the University administration,” Schaus said.

Toft, Strom and Mark Desrosiers, a Wilson Library employee who went on strike, all said they thought the University was trying to break up their unions during the strike.

“They are union busting,” Strom said.

Even though union members said they are unenthusiastic about the settlement, they don’t regret their decisions. Some workers who walked out said they are glad they went on strike and would do it again.

The strike’s lasting effect on the AFSCME unions is yet to be seen.

Toft and Schaus both said they think rank-and-file members will become more active in the union. But they said until the vote on the settlement occurs and more time passes, it’s too early to tell what’s going to come for AFSCME.