Committee urges employees to lobby

Bryce Haugen

From Morris, Minn., to the Twin Cities, University civil servants are preparing to fight.

Members of the Civil Service Committee, which represents civil service employees on all University campuses, are encouraging approximately 4,500 civil service employees to increase their impact at the State Capitol.

Committee members said they hope their support will lead to increases in University funding, which would mean fewer wage freezes and better facilities, said Peg Wolff, chairwoman of the committee’s legislative subcommittee.

The University civil service employees include workers who are not members of union, faculty or academic professional and administrative employee groups.

When the Legislature reconvenes in January, they will be hearing a lot from University civil service employees, said Matt Bowers, the committee’s vice chairman and head of borrowing privileges and fines for University Libraries.

“We feel that it’s very important that we don’t just wait for things to happen to us, but that we partner with the rest of the University to make things happen,” he said.

He said civil service employees are trying to be more involved during this legislative session to protect benefits and avoid another wage freeze like the one in effect.

“We’re trying to be more visible in the community so we’re at the table participating in the discussion,” he said.

Bowers said the committee wants the Legislature to pass the University’s budget request of $87 million for the 2006-07 biennium. A bonding bill to fund University construction projects is another priority, he said.

A bonding bill that included Kolthoff Hall renovations and sports facility additions for the University’s Duluth campus died last session despite bipartisan support.

Wolff said the failure of the bonding bill combined with lower-than-requested University funding in recent sessions makes this session important.

“The University needs to get its funding from the Legislature,” she said. “When it doesn’t, everybody is affected.”

She said the legislative subcommittee is exploring a “variety” of ways to get civil service employees involved, including lobbying state legislators. Most of the effort will focus on getting employees to join the University’s Legislative Network, she said.

The Legislative Network is a group of more than 14,000 faculty, staff members and students from across the state devoted to winning legislative battles for the University.

Mike Dean, grassroots coordinator for the Legislative Network, said University faculty and staff members, including civil service employees, are “key allies to what we are doing at the Legislature this year.”

“They have a bird’s-eye view of what’s going on at the University,” he said.

He said he’s confident the Legislature will approve the budget request.

“But it’s going to depend on our advocates out there talking to legislators,” he said. “We’re competing with a lot of different requests and what’s going to make the difference is Ö getting out there and talking to legislators.”

As a committee member from the University’s Morris campus, academic adviser Brenda Boever said she will do her part.

“It’s important for people on all campuses to become active,” she said. “I think that’s all of our jobs.”

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, vice chairman of the House Higher Education Finance Committee, said he’s heard very few comments so far but they would be effective.

“I always enjoy hearing from the people that are directly impacted,” Nornes said.

Civil service employees committee members said legislators will be contacted during the session.

Nornes said funding decisions will ultimately come down to how much money is available for the University.

“It’s very early,” he said. “But I’m optimistic we can do better than we have in past years.”