University union workers participate in negotiations, salary offer expected soon

So far, negotiations far have focused on the union’s healthcare package.

Matt Graham

A sticking point during the last round of negotiations two years ago, University labor unions hope to get a better salary offer next week from officials.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees unions representing approximately 5,000 University employees are negotiating a new labor contract.

Negotiations began June 22 for AFSCME Locals 3800, 3260 and 3937, which represent the clerical, health and technical employees, respectively. They are currently working under the terms of union contracts that expired June 30.

Also at the negotiating table with AFSCME 3800 is AFSCME 3801, which represents clerical and technical workers on the University’s Duluth campus.

Union officials said they expect to continue negotiating with the University for the rest of the summer and hope to come to an agreement before Labor Day.

“That’s when school starts. That’s when, if it came down to a strike, that would be the point that would make the most impact on campus,” said Candace Lund, president of AFSCME Local 3937.

The last time an AFSCME contract was up, in fall 2003, Local 3800 went on strike for 15 days. Lund said she is optimistic that a strike can be avoided this time.

Lori Vicich, communications director at the Office of Human Resources, said that because the University was more successful at getting state funding this year, it can offer more to union workers.

University officials were more restricted in negotiations two years ago because state funding levels caused massive budget cuts.

“We’re really optimistic this year because we’re not operating in a wage-freeze environment,” Vicich said.

Lund said her union is hoping to receive a salary offer Monday, which she said must make up for the increased costs of living that AFSCME workers have faced without the benefit of a wage increase after the last negotiations.

“(An offer) that’s just above nothing, that won’t do it,” Lund said.

The unions are currently negotiating their health-care package, which is separate from the wage negotiations.

Officials said the negotiations so far have focused on contract language dealing with issues such as probationary periods and sick leave, with the understanding that wage issues will come later.

“Every one of these proposals is a noncost to the University. They become costly only if not taken seriously. They are simply a blueprint for a better workplace,” wrote Gladys McKenzie, lead negotiator for AFSCME Locals 3800, 3801 and 3260, on the AFSCME 3800 Web site.