Regents OK other unions’ deals as strike still looms

The University Board of Regents approved agreements between the University and two of its unions at a meeting on the Morris campus Thursday.

The University now has approximately 90 percent of its employees abiding by new health-care rates. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 is the only union remaining with an unsettled contract.

AFSCME Local 3937 – which represents 1,100 University technical workers – and Teamsters Local 320 – which represents 1,400 University custodial, maintenance and food service employees – both voted to accept the University’s final contract offers last week.

Although union members said throughout the bargaining process that health care was one of the most important issues, there were no changes to the University’s initial health-care proposals for either union.

“The University felt that these shared costs were needed to address the budget situation,” said Patti Dion, director of the University’s Office of Human Resources. “I don’t want to gloat about this in any way. This was tough.”

Under the University’s current health-care plan, the premium for a single person using the base plan – the cheapest option – is covered entirely by the University, said Frank Cerra, vice president for the Academic Health Center, in a presentation to the regents. Under the new plan, that same person will pay 10 percent of the premium beginning January.

The University pays 94 percent of the premium for a family on the base plan. That number will drop to 85 percent by 2005 under the health-care changes. The percentages are consistent, but in some cases lower than benchmarks for other Big Ten schools, Cerra said.

“Every million dollars of health-care cost avoidance saves approximately 17 jobs,” Cerra said.

Some members of AFSCME Local 3800 said they would not be able to accept a contract with the current health-care changes.

“The combination of the loss in step increases and health care is too great,” Morris campus AFSCME Local 3800 member Laura Thielke said.

Step increases are salary increases given to employees each year. AFSCME Local 3937 lost its step increases by agreeing to the contract, Dion said.

The only teamsters who will keep their step increases are those who make less than $25,000 per year.

Dion said the technical union members will receive a lump sum of $200 in January and receive a 2.5 percent pay increase in 2005 to partially compensate for the health-care loss. The teamsters will receive a 1 percent increase in 2004 and another in 2005. Each teamster will also receive a $200 lump sum in January, except those who make less than $25,000 a year. They will receive $300.

Some AFSCME Local 3800 members from the Twin Cities drove to Morris on Thursday to picket.

Union files intent to strike

Clerical workers filed an intent-to-strike notice with the state Bureau of Mediation Services in St. Paul on Thursday morning.

AFSCME Local 3800, which has 1,800 full-time University employees, could go on strike as soon as Oct. 21.

After filing intent to strike, state law requires a 10-day cooling-off period. Mediation services will call a meeting before the strike, said John Kuderka of the bureau.

If the union strikes, administrative work, grant research, payroll and filing could be slowed.

Both AFSCME Local 3800 and the University say they would like to avert a strike.

“Clearly, we have always been interested in negotiating and discussing with the clerical workers,” said Carol Carrier, vice president for the University’s Office of Human Resources.

AFSCME Local 3800 workers continue to be dissatisfied with the current contract offer, which includes wage freezes and health-care cuts, said Phyllis Walker, AFSCME Local 3800 president.

“I am determined to do whatever has to be done to get a suitable contract for clerical workers. If that involves sitting down at a table with management, I will certainly do that,” Walker said.

A strike would affect all University campuses.

At the Crookston campus, the University will try to maintain operations as normal if a strike occurs, said Bob Nelson, vice chancellor for student affairs at Crookston.

“We’re prepared to do our best to further the University’s work. Each unit is responsible for adjusting the needs of their unit to get work done,” Nelson said.

AFSCME workers on the Duluth campus are not as supportive of a strike as those on the Twin Cities campus, said Vickie Rindal, executive administrative specialist and AFSCME member in Duluth.

“I can’t afford to not work because I carry the benefits for my family,” Rindal said.

One in five AFSCME Local 3801 members in Duluth voted to reject the University’s contract offer and authorize a strike.

AFSCME Local 3801 executive board member Joan Erickson said the difference in living expenses between the two campuses is a reason for the difference in the vote.

“Twelve dollars is not a great wage here in Duluth, but it gets you more than in Minneapolis,” Erickson said.

Erickson said that despite the vote results, AFSCME Local 3801 supports the Twin Cities campus workers.

“Where we go from here is where we go as a union, together. We understand there are some differing dynamics of the environment,” Erickson said.

Judith Karon, human resources director at Duluth, said the campus has a plan should its 200 AFSCME Local 3801 workers strike.

“Some of us will be doing our own typing, which is just fine,” Karon said.

– Amy Horst contributed to this report.