Union wants better work conditions

by Jennifer Niemela

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees on Tuesday began their biennial contract negotiations with the University.
The union, which represents 2,800 clerical and 1,200 technical employees, is asking for better job security and working conditions in their negotiations with the University.
“We’re making relatively few, weight~y demands,” said Martha Johnson, AFSCME negotiator. “We hope by focusing our demands on a few important issues we’ll make some progress.”
The clerical and technical workers, who currently have two separate contracts, also want to combine forces to work under one contract.
“The language in (both contracts) is identical,” said Brian Jensen, union negotiation co-chair. “There’s strength in numbers. (By combining the two groups), we’ll be over 4,000 strong.”
The unionized civil service workers, approximately 50 of whom met yesterday on the St. Paul campus for a contract negotiation kick-off party, are pushing for changes in working conditions.
Jensen said technical workers are particularly concerned about conditions because they work with hazardous materials.
“The technicals work with glassblowers, pesticides … we work quite a bit with hazardous materials,” he said.
Jensen said the union is also requesting hazard pay, which the Teamsters union of University laborers already has. Hazard pay is an increased pay rate applied to jobs that exceed a certain number of hours of exposure to dangerous conditions.
For clerical workers, improving working conditions means improving job security, said Elsie Martin, union negotiations co-chairwoman.
“If we don’t have to be worried about our jobs, we’ll have better working conditions,” said Martin, who cited the merger between the University Hospital and Fairview Riverside Medical Center last January as an event that affected the working conditions of many employees. “We need to be confident that when restructuring does happen, our working conditions will improve.”
Civil service contract committees will respond to AFSCME’s proposals today. The two contracts expire on June 30, but union officials, citing a history of lengthy negotiations, expect talks to last at least until August.