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University union votes to strike

Strike could start Aug. 28 if contract negotiations fail.

TBy Jake Weyer Teamsters Local 320, the union representing 1,300 University employees voted to strike, union officials announced Tuesday.

The union’s members include custodial, maintenance, food and trash service workers.

“We are very pleased with the results,” said Sue Mauren, head of the union. She said members overwhelmingly voted ‘yes’ to strike, but declined to provide vote totals.

Many union members are also happy.

“It’s a clear message that we’re not going to go down easy,” said Skip Staehnke, a senior building and grounds worker at the University and a Teamsters Local 320 member. “I think the bulk of us are in this to the end.”

With its members’ support, the union can strike as soon as Aug. 28, but Mauren said she hopes a strike can be averted by reaching an agreement with the University.

The union and the University are currently in negotiations over proposed wage freezes, increased health care costs and other benefits changes.

Carol Carrier, vice president of the University’s Office of Human Resources said officials are disappointed and somewhat surprised by the vote, adding that they remain confident they can reach an agreement.

The union notified the state and the University of its decision Tuesday, Mauren said. Under state law, the union is required to tell the state and the University before any strike.

Mauren hopes the strike vote will give the union an edge when negotiations resume Aug. 27.

John Remington, a Carlson School of Management industrial relations professor, called the vote a strategic ploy in the negotiations process.

“It tells the employer two things: Employees are unified and prepared to engage in work stoppage,” he said.

Whether it will work is questionable, he said, because it is hard to convince an employer that a union is serious about striking.

“I don’t think it’s going to change anything from this end,” Carrier said, adding that negotiations will continue as usual.

If Teamsters Local 320 does strike, the union will pay its members for 10 hours at their current hourly rate for each week the strike extends beyond its second week, Mauren said. Union members are willing to hold out as it takes to receive a fair contract, she said. Union members also plan to picket in front of campus buildings to publicize the strike.

Mauren said the intent of the picket lines is not to dissuade students and employees from entering buildings.

“We’re going to proceed with plans and try to reach a conclusion that both parties can live with,” she said.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local 3800, which represents 1,800 clerical workers, will take a strike vote Aug. 27. The results will be tabulated that day.

Jake Weyer covers faculty and staff and welcomes comments at [email protected]

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