Letter: Teamsters deserve living wages and respect

Matt Boynton

For the past six months, the University of Minnesota administration has been “bargaining” with unionized workers for new contracts, asking workers to work under expired contracts until new agreements are settled. In actuality, this has meant hostile anti-union attitudes and disrespect from President Eric Kaler’s administration toward workers who do the hardest work for the least amount of pay at the University. 

These workers are members of AFSCME Locals 3800 and 3937 and Teamsters Local 320 and do the most important work at the University of Minnesota, from cooking and cleaning in the dorms, to building maintenance and snow clearing in the winter, to facilities and janitorial work, to clerical work preparing materials for academic departments and classes. The University works because they do, and they deserve more. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) stands in solidarity with University workers as they face off with a hostile anti-union University administration. Students will stand alongside and fight with workers in demanding raises and respect for AFSCME and Teamsters! 

On Thursday, Nov. 2, University Teamsters pushed forward the struggle for a fair contract with the University administration by authorizing a vote to strike, by a huge margin of 85 percent support. If Teamsters decide to strike for a fair contract, students will provide their full support. We know that all workers at the University deserve living wages and respect, and it is absolutely atrocious that Kaler, a man making over $600,000 a year, and his administration refuse to bargain in good faith with University workers, many of whom earn less than $15 an hour. While the Board of Regents and Kaler’s administration have passed 2 percent across-the-board raises for all employees at the University in their budgets, the administration is refusing to give unionized workers this already budgeted-for raise and instead is offering them virtually nothing in its place. This refusal to give workers what has already been budgeted for and disrespect of unionized workers is disgusting and unacceptable.

In past contract campaigns, SDS has stood with workers, but this year it is particularly crucial that students show solidarity. In 2003 and 2007 when AFSCME 3800 went on strike, students occupied Morrill Hall and went on hunger strike in solidarity with University workers. In 1985, students from the University organized protests, boycotts and support for the Hormel P-9 workers on strike and just last year when nurses with MNA went on strike in the Twin Cities SDS went out to their picket lines to show support from the University. Students will support workers at University if they go on strike now, too!

The reason this year has elevated importance is due to the rising tide of anti-union legislation around the country. Every year, more Republican legislatures pass anti-union “Right to Work” laws, attempting to defund and attack workers’ unions, with 28 states now having “Right to Work” laws on the books. Now, with a Trump Presidency, national “Right to Work” legislation is being pushed for in Congress and the Supreme Court is considering a decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case which would defund and attack public sector unions like AFSCME and Teamsters at the University. Workers deserve a fair contract now to ensure their jobs have security and a future for their families. Kaler’s administration needs to stop its anti-union bullying immediately and give workers at the University what they deserve: raises and respect. SDS and UMN students support workers and will fight alongside them for the dignity that they deserve!

Join us in supporting AFSCME and Teamsters on the picket lines on Friday, Nov. 17, at 1:30 p.m. at Morrill Hall.

This letter has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Matt Boynton is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of American Studies at the University of Minnesota and shared this letter on behalf of Students for a Democratic Society.