Union leaders urge strike

Negotiations between the University and its largest union ended in deadlock Thursday, with the union’s negotiating committee recommending its members reject the institution’s final proposal and go on strike.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800, the union representing more than 1,800 University clerical workers, is one of four unions voting on final contract proposals after months of negotiations over proposed wage freezes, health-care cost increases and benefit reductions.

The University reached tentative agreements with AFSCME Locals 3937 and 3260 and Teamsters Local 320, which represents approximately 2,600 University technical, medical and public service employees, including custodial, food and trash service workers.

Each union will vote to decide whether to accept their respective final offers from the University. AFSCME Local 3800 is the only union whose negotiating committee recommends a “reject and strike” vote.

“We decided we could not in good faith recommend a final settlement that represented the huge concessions that management had proposed so far,” said Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800. “Clerical workers’ salaries are so low that it becomes impossible for many of us to live after management’s concessions are factored in.”

The median hourly wage for an AFSCME Local 3800 member is $14.40, Walker said. Clerical workers at the University process paychecks and student aid applications, help professors prepare for courses and handle most manual paperwork.

The University declined to provide details of its final proposal to AFSCME Local 3800. The union said the proposal contains all of the original cost increases for health-care premiums and co-pays and eliminates annual 2 percent salary increases.

“(The AFSCME Local 3800 proposal) is broadly consistent with the other proposals,” said Carol Carrier, vice president in the University’s Office of Human Resources, refering to the offerings to other unions that resulted from tentative agreements.

Carrier said she is hopeful members of all four unions will vote in favor of the proposals after they review them. If a strike does occur, the University is prepared to continue operations as usual, Carrier said.

Walker said a strike would be planned for a time when it would have maximum impact on the University.

Although the union said negotiations with the University had reached an impasse, state mediator John Kuderka said that is not the way he would describe the negotiations.

If the union votes down the proposal, the University and union will hold more negotiations during the 10-day, cooling-off period preceding any strike.

AFSCME Local 3800 took a preliminary strike vote Aug. 27 with 88 percent voting to strike. Based on that vote, Walker said she is confident members will again vote in favor of striking.

“It’s a very scary prospect,” said Ken Tivey, a secretary in the University’s department of cultural studies and comparative literature and an AFSCME Local 3800 member. “I am willing to strike.”

Tivey said he took a week off, before school began, to walk around campus and evaluate union members’ interest in striking. Out of approximately 200 clerical employees he spoke with, only four were opposed to striking, he said.

Joanne Berglund, a clerical employee in the University’s Office of Student Finance and an AFSCME Local 3800 member, said she did not make it to the voting booth the first time but she would have voted in favor of striking and will this time. Because she takes several medications, she said, her annual wage would be cut by approximately 6 percent under the University’s proposed health-care plan.

“I’m barely living paycheck to paycheck now,” she said.

Walker said her union will begin discussing the University’s final offer with employees today, and strike training meetings, which began last week, will continue throughout this week. She said a strike vote will not take place until the end of September or early October.