Contract vote looms as prof, union leader host teach-in

Jessica Weaver

University professor August Nimtz and local union member Steff Yorek taught students and staff about contract negotiations and a possible union strike at a teach-in Thursday.

“This is not just an issue of clerical workers,” Yorek said. “This is an issue of the entire University.”

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 represents 1,800 University clerical workers. On Oct. 1-2, they will vote to accept or reject the University’s final contract offer.

If AFSCME Local 3800 rejects the offer, it could strike as early as Oct. 13.

The University’s final offer includes an across-the-board 2.5 percent yearly wage increase – eliminating former step increases – and significantly decreases health-care benefits. The yearly wage increase is to keep up with the cost of living.

“I am scared about this final offer because doubling health-care premiums and a two-year wage freeze could push 1,800 people into the poverty level,” said Lois Wolff, a University clerical worker.

At an average wage of $14.40 per hour, Yorek said, a 2.5 percent yearly increase is barely enough to keep up with increasing living expenses.

“The people at the top are not being asked to make any cuts,” said Yorek, an office specialist in the department of surgery. “They simply want to balance the budget by raising tuition and cutting benefits.”

Yorek said the University is blaming the cuts on the budget crisis, but she said not all share the financial burden.

“The fact is they have a distribution crisis,” Yorek said.

Nimtz spoke at the teach-in to support the union members.

“I’m here as faculty in solidarity with the clerical workers,” he said.

Nimtz said the cost-cutting trend is not only at the University, but across the nation. He related the social benefits cuts to a nationwide scale and said benefits need to be expanded.

Third-year University student Ryan Dahlstrom attended the event and said he hopes to get more involved with the workers.

“I think (the teach-in) is a really important place to create dialogue and start playing an active role,” Dahlstrom said. “It’s a way to raise awareness and action.”

Union members also had a message for student attendees.

“Students can play a big role, both for ourselves and for you. These tuition increases are

unacceptable,” said Sandi Sherman, a University clerical worker.

In case of a strike, union members are looking for alternate locations for classes, Yorek said, so professors who will not cross picket lines could use these locations.

“We need the support of the entire University,” Yorek said.