Workers plan to strike tomorrow

Unless an unlikely last-minute deal is struck, the University will start classes this week while as many as 3,500 of its faculty and staff prepare to go on strike – making the usually chaotic beginning of the year all the more hectic.

This means secretaries, librarians, laboratory technicians and other support staff might not be available to students easing into a new school year.

University and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union officials failed to make any progress at a last-ditch negotiation session last week and now AFSCME employees will, in all likelihood, strike Wednesday.

“By management not showing us any movement at all on their last proposal, they’re telling us we should just go out on strike,” Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800, said. “They’re pushing us out on strike.”

On Aug. 23, a 72 percent majority of AFSCME voting members elected to turn down the University’s offer. The workers contend their wages in recent years have not kept up with inflation – projected to be about 3.5 percent next year.

In October 2003, AFSCME clerical workers went on strike for 15 days, marking the first work stoppage at the University in more than 60 years.

Patti Dion, director of employee relations and member of the University’s negotiating team, said the University didn’t have the financial flexibility to up its offer without reconfiguring the entire budget.

“No one ever really likes a negotiation to end in Ö a work-stoppage activity,” she said. “We’ve worked really hard with our offer to try and avoid that, but AFSCME leadership has made the decision to go ahead with this action.”

Human resources junior Marie Gabrielson finds herself in a unique position as a strike looms.

As both a full-time student and a University staff member working 30 hours a week in the BioTechnology Institute, Gabrielson said she is able to empathize with students and professionals alike.

Gabrielson, a voting member of the AFSCME union, said she voted for the strike.

“The rate the University is proposing doesn’t meet the rate of inflation,” she said.

Though her unique position as both student and staff has allowed Gabrielson to receive a Regents Scholarship – which pays for her tuition – she said it is still hard to pay rent and pay off past student loans.

Gabrielson said she wasn’t sure how long she could make it without working.

“I don’t walk home with that much money,” she said. “This week (on strike) is OK. Next week, I don’t know.”

Gabrielson said she felt the decision to strike was a personal one, but felt the University needs to see large numbers of workers absent to be affected.

The University, however, will allow AFSCME members who choose not to strike back to their jobs and they will continue to receive pay.

Gabrielson said she would be upset with fellow union members who choose not to strike.

“I don’t like that (other staff in the union) can not go on strike and still reap the benefits,” she said.

Other students have started to voice their support for University workers.

In an e-mail sent to University President Bob Bruininks and The Minnesota Daily by communications graduate student Matthew May, the department of communication studies announced it voted to adopt a resolution of solidarity.

“We believe that in order to be a top research institution, economic progress must apply to all workers and not just President Bruininks and top-level administration officials,” May said in the statement.

As of Daily press time Sunday, the University’s Office of Human Resources stated on its Web site it has made a fair offer and does not plan on rescinding it.