Protesters disrupt regents meeting

by Betsy Graca

University police arrested five protesters after a group of students and community members disrupted the University’s Board of Regents meeting Friday, forcing the board to adjourn early.

Hennepin County Jail records show University Police arrested five individuals that were held at the Hennepin County Jail.

Officials arrested Kimberly Defranco, 42, Lindan Gawboy, 44, Katherine Kleckner, 55, Katrina Plotz, 27, and Kathryn Wodtke, 20, for “interference of public property.”

The individuals arrested were released 2:30 p.m. Saturday, but authorities have until Monday to file charges. The protesters didn’t have to post bail to be released.

The group – protesting on behalf of members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union who are currently on strike – entered the sixth floor of the McNamara Alumni Center at around 9:30 a.m. Approximately 100 protesters took part in the demonstration.

University President Bob Bruininks and the regents continued tending to the meeting agenda when one protester asked, “When is there going to be fair wages at this University?”

Bruininks and the regents did not address the man, at which point the group began to yell and chant.

Regents Chairwoman Patricia Simmons called for order as the group continued chanting. Simmons called for a short recess when the chanting failed to cease.

Upon reconvening, protesters continued chanting and the regents adjourned the meeting for the day.

Bruininks and most of the regents left the room. Several members of the group attempted to block the regents’ exits by standing in the rear doorway.

Police intervened and cleared protesters away from the exit.

One police officer drew his pepper spray, but never used it on the crowd.

Kat Wodtke, a theater arts junior, was among the protesters arrested. She said the protest was meant as a way to raise awareness for the workers on strike.

“At the very least, people are starting to realize that it’s not business as usual at the ‘U,’ ” she said.

Wodtke said the protesters were never warned that they would be arrested if they did not move.

Political science senior and student representative to the Board of Regents, Adam Engelman, said there was no confrontation between police and arrestees.

“I thought police and protesters were respectful,” he said, adding that Bruininks left the room without comment.

Simmons said the regents left the room because of the noise created by the protesters.

“When we are unable to conduct business, then there’s no point in sitting there,” she said. “We weren’t able to do our jobs, so I called for a recess.”

Simmons said it is standard procedure for regents to leave in such situations.

Regent Steven Hunter who is also a member of AFSCME Local 9 in Minneapolis, stayed in the room to address the protesters.

“We are working to find a solution,” he said.

Hunter said reaching an agreement in this type of situation needs to be done at the negotiating table.

“We have a collective bargaining process,” he said. “We’re not going out of it.”

Hunter said he stayed in the room out of respect for fellow union members on the picket line and he wanted the opportunity to speak with some AFSCME members directly.

Simmons said Hunter is respected for his work with union issues.

“He was in a difficult position,” said Simmons. “I don’t believe in any way was he not being conscious of both of his roles.”

Dani Indovino, a graduate student in the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, organized the rally outside McNamara Alumni Center.

“It’s important that we let the regents know that this doesn’t affect just AFSCME,” she said. “It’s part of a great University to contribute to a great workforce.”

James Heinz, the general manager of the McNamara Alumni Center, said the protesters had every right to attend the meeting so long as they remained orderly.

“If they behave themselves, they can go up,” he said.

Hunter said he was disappointed in the way the protesters acted.

“When they enter (the meeting), they certainly have the right to be there,” he said. “But I wish they would have respected the regents.”

Protesters march on

Undeterred by the arrests, union members and supporters moved outside McNamara to continue their demand for higher wages.

According to protesters, the strike will continue this week until their demands are met.

Lyndon Carlson, chairman of the Minnesota House finance committee, handles the appropriations of University funding and also spoke at the rally.

“This spring the Legislature raised the University budget by $150 million over the next two years,” she said. “Part of the reason was to raise wages.”

Democratic candidate for 2008 U.S. Senate Al Franken was scheduled to attend the protest on Friday, but did not. He is expected to address the striking workers Monday.

Ahnalese Rushmann and Justin Horwath contributed to this story.