Strikers say mood on the line is upbeat

Despite cold weather and no plans for negotiations, strikers on the picket lines and at strike headquarters Wednesday said morale is high.

“I’m inspired every day and busy every minute,” said J. Burger, a union staff organizer.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Locals 3800 and 3801, the unions representing approximately 1,900 full-time clerical employees on four University campuses, went on strike Oct. 21. According to University News Service, 701 employees were on strike Wednesday.

Strikers said donations from local businesses and community members, as well as support from other unions, encourage them.

“We’re getting so much support from people driving by and honking, from the health-care workers to the Metro Transit bus drivers,” union member Courtney Chandler said.

Chandler said she is encouraged that unionized delivery truck drivers are not crossing picket lines. She said she finds the student support, especially at Morrill Hall, heartening.

For others, the University’s attitude toward the strike motivates them.

“The University’s refusal to even negotiate has strengthened resolve,” said Steve Schaus, a striking union member.

Schaus said concerns about health care keep him on the picket line.

The picketers’ cause – a contract maintaining step increases and lower health care – also keeps those on strike motivated.

“Strikers are determined what they are asking for is just,” which keeps strikers motivated, AFSCME Council 6 employee Jo Pels said.

Businesses, community members and other unions continue to support AFSCME Local 3800 by donating food and money, Pels said.

Members of the United Transportation Union dropped off approximately 2,000 donuts to strike headquarters Wednesday morning. That afternoon, one of the councils of the Minnesota Association of

Professional Employees, a union of state employees, donated pizza and money, Pels said.

“Everybody has their days and that’s all it takes – a honked horn, a pot of soup, and you remember it isn’t just about us. It’s about all working folks,” Pels said. “With that kind of support, it just keeps you pumped.”

Living without a paycheck is worrying some, striking union member Kelly Zimmerschied said. She said she sees union members make ends meet with the resources they have.

“There’s some hardship for me, but you never stop finding resources,” Zimmerschied said.

Returning to work

Still, as the strike nears the end of a second week, some strikers are finding it difficult to remain on the picket lines.

When Bruno Scalici and Gina Winther left their jobs at the beginning of the strike, they thought the University and AFSCME Local 3800 would come to an agreement within the first couple days.

But when days started to look like weeks, Scalici and Winther found themselves unprepared to stay on strike. After three days, the two University clerical workers returned to their jobs in the history department.

Carol Carrier, vice president for the University’s Office of Human Resources, said striking employees can return to work, but if they choose to go back on strike after returning they cannot return again until the strike is over.

However, strikers will lose health-care benefits if they do not work at all during the next pay period, which Carrier said is from next Tuesday to Nov. 14.

Scalici, a principal accounts specialist in the history department, said he is looking for a temporary job – hopefully with a temporary health-care plan – so he can go back on strike.

“I want to be back out there,” Scalici said. “I just can’t afford it until I get some alternate income.”

He said he needs to work to support his family.

Scalici is responsible for the department’s payroll and accounting processes, among other things. He said he will continue to work as usual, but will not perform the work of his striking colleagues.

“I’m just going to keep doing my job,” he said. “I just hope the unit is respectful that other people are on strike.”

Winther, a senior office specialist in the history department, said the office has been quiet since she returned. All the department’s five clerical workers went on strike. She and Scalici are the only employees who have returned.

The history department is searching for three new faculty members, and Winther enters applicant information into the computer database so it can be reviewed by a search committee. While she was on strike, a stack of applications went untouched.

Since the beginning of the strike, the history department has opened at 10:30 a.m., two and a half hours later than usual.

Mary Jo Maynes, the history department chair, said business is slower than usual and the department is struggling to provide normal services. She said the clerical workers are greatly missed.

“I guess we notice now more than ever how much we rely on them,” she said.

University history professor Eric Weitz said he has done more work such as copying and sending mail since the strike began. He said the remaining staff and student employees are handling the work well.

“I think our staff and student workers are performing heroically,” Weitz said.

Mehreen Ahmed, a first-year environmental science student and part-time history department employee, said she has been busier than usual filing, copying, entering data and answering phones for striking workers.

Other departments are also seeing strikers return to work.

Stanley Bonnema, administrator for the chemistry department, said three of seven striking employees returned to work.