U, strikers to negotiate Sunday

Students met with Bob Bruininks as union supporters rallied at Morrill Hall a third day.

Jake Weyer

The University and its largest employee union will resume negotiations Sunday, about two weeks after the union began its strike over proposed wage changes, health-care cost increases and benefits reductions.

About 200 union supporters and members rallied in front of Morrill Hall on Thursday night. They celebrated after hearing of the planned negotiations.

Members and supporters of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Locals 3800 and 3801 – the unions representing approximately 1,900 University clerical workers on four campuses – have been on strike since Oct. 21.

If negotiations succeed, the strike could end Sunday night. If not, strikers said they are willing to continue picketing.

Carol Carrier, University vice president for the Office of Human Resources, said a state mediator notified the University of the negotiations Thursday night.

“The mediator is making the call,” she said. “We are pleased to be going. We’re feeling good about going back to the table.”

Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800, said a state mediator also notified the union’s negotiating committee Thursday about the planned negotiations.

“We’re willing to come back to the table and negotiate in good faith,” Walker said. “If we don’t reach an agreement, we will continue the fight.”

At Thursday night’s rally, union members and supporters spoke, banged pots and cans and danced to music. While negotiations do not mean the strike is over, union members said they are happy about what they have accomplished.

“It’s like a giant hug from the students and the community,” said Angie Stehr, a principal administrative specialist in the Carlson School of Management, as she danced in front of Morrill Hall on Thursday night. “I hope something happens, because this is hard.”

Stehr, who has been on strike since Oct. 21, picketed in front of a West Bank loading dock Thursday. She said she is willing to continue striking.

Pam Miles, a principal accounts specialist in the University’s Office of International Programs and an AFSCME Local 3800 member, said she is happy but not holding her hopes too high.

“We are relieved,” she said. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Many University students attended the rally, including a group of 18 students who met with University President Bob Bruininks on Thursday to discuss labor relations between AFSCME Local 3800 and the University.

Hundreds of University students demanded the meeting with Bruininks during sit-ins Tuesday and Wednesday.

Students attending the meeting urged Bruininks to return to the negotiating table with the union.

At a press conference following the meeting, Bruininks said he was glad to meet with the students. At the time of the meeting, no negotiation date was set.

“The University will try to do its level best to address the concerns of the union,” he said. “No one takes any pleasure in this strike.”

Isaac Kamola, a political science graduate student and one of the students involved in the meeting with Bruininks, said the strike was necessary to encourage the University to resume negotiations.

“They needed something that was in their face,” Kamola said. “They didn’t know what to do with it.”