The clerical workers’ negotiations with the University is an important issue deserving intelligent debate. Last Thursday’s State of the University address was a perfect opportunity for such discourse, where union leaders could have respectfully talked with University President Bob Bruininks, who was candid, amiable and seemed open to input. Instead, union supporters, including American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 President Phyllis Walker, chose to ask simplistic talk-radio-style questions sandwiched between insults and rude personal attacks, while displaying a complete lack of understanding of University fund raising and management. One supporter, after refusing to identify himself, went so far as to call Bruininks arrogant.
The clerical workers need a compensation package sufficient to provide for themselves and their families, while the University has a budget crisis resulting from drastic reductions in state funding and they must balance competing interests. Among these interests is compensation for all employees, from clerical workers who support the University on a daily basis to executive administrators who make sweeping decisions that execute the University’s mission and set its future course. Absolute right and wrong do not apply here; rather, the complicated issues arising from competing priorities require serious people to advocate various solutions.
Many people on both sides of the issue, including those who have written columns and articles or spent time educating the University community at various information tables, have helped facilitate a constructive debate. There are unfortunately others who choose to allow their passion for union politics and philosophy drive their conduct. The union members need representation that will obtain fair compensation, not people caught up in absolutes, extremes, class conflict and 15 minutes of fame.
We hope reasonable debate, creative thinking and good faith will prevail over personal attacks, sound-bite public relations and absolutist rhetoric in coming negotiations.