Unions conduct survey

The director of communications for the Office of Human Resources said the University questions the survey’s legitimacy.

Angela Gray

Late-night trips to Wal-Mart for groceries and splitting medications in half to save money are all part of the financial game, according to a survey conducted by labor unions at the University.

In January 2005, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Teamsters responded to an economic survey sent by union-represented employee groups.

Approximately half of the recipients responded with 56 percent claiming to have worked a second job and 79 percent needing to borrow money or use a credit card to make ends meet.

Monique Paulson, an AFSCME organizer, said the number of respondents was surprising.

“More importantly, the responses were overwhelming,” she said.

Respondents detail hardships

Union members responded to the survey’s two open-ended questions regarding what sacrifices workers make and what they could do if they made a livable wage.

One anonymous respondent to the survey said that as a sacrifice, the family limits their doctor visits and splits medications in half to save money.

Another anonymous respondent said his oldest brother died attend this summer and he could not afford to go out of state to attend the funeral.

An anonymous respondent said that if he or she made a livable wage, then the family could afford to have children.

Budgets stretched thin

David Linton, a University information technology specialist, said he has to work a second job on top of his full-time University position to support his three children.

Linton said he works 25 night and weekend hours at a liquor store each week in addition to his University job.

“Basically, anyone who takes on a second job is having trouble making ends meet,” he said.

Linton said that after a heart attack three years ago, he has to take four prescription drugs each day and the premiums and co-pays continue to go up.

“I thought about leaving my part-time job because of the physical and mental stress on my body, but could not because of my health care expenses.”

He said his spouse used to stay at home to take care of their children, but had to look for work to help with the expenses.

“Every day there is a sacrifice,” he said.

Linton said he rides the bus every day from Anoka County to the University.

“Gas prices and auto insurance rates are high and I cannot afford to drive or risk driving without insurance,” he said.

Linton said his current concern is the winter and how large his heating and gas bills are going to be.

Linton said he hopes the union does not vote to strike because the current offering is “better than nothing.”

“Of course the University will try to negotiate for the lowest wage increases,” he said. “I resign myself; I cannot afford to be on strike.”

Tina Traynor, a licensed nurse at the University, said she has had to work a second job at another hospital for two years.

“I always thought of the University as a fair place to work, but recently times are just plain hard,” she said.

Traynor said she has four children, one of whom is a college student.

“College is expensive these days, and if I want my kid to go to school, I need to work weekends,” she said.

She said the University has let wages fall compared with other clinics and won’t be able to keep up with outside wages.

“I cannot risk leaving the University because of the benefits and retirement,” she said.

Chris Koehler, a University library assistant, said he cannot cover both car insurance and a home.

“I am a single father with two little boys and I need help from falling behind,” he said.

Between inflation and increasing medical care expenses, he said, he has thought about looking for other work.

“It would be difficult to change health care plans because there are a lot of cases where changing medical plans requires a probationary period,” he said. “I don’t want to put my kids through that.”

Koehler said that based on what he has seen, the University is “dragging their feet.”

“I hate to use the S-word because employees that go on strike never make money,” he said.

He said unions strike on principle.

“Our principle is the University needs to treat its employees well,” he said.

AFSCME Local 3800 President Phyllis Walker said the University has seen the survey results.

“Union representatives read responses from the survey out loud to President Bruininks and his vice presidents,” she said.

Walker said the administration told them it was not necessary for them to hear the union members’ responses.

Lori Vicich, director of communications for the Office of Human Resources, said the University questions the legitimacy of the union’s economic survey.

Vicich said President Bob Bruininks and senior administrators met with union representatives and read the results from the survey.

“First of all, the scientific response rate is low, and asking union members heated questions during heated times can cause a bias,” she said.

She said the University does not base compensation on an individual’s life situations.

“The University’s financial focus is based on competition in marketplace, which is a growing priority and internal equity wages that are fair across all employee groups,” she said.

Vicich said an individual’s life circumstances are that individual’s business.

“A lot of people e-mail us with issues about increasing gas prices and health care expenses,” she said. “Those issues are bigger than the University.”

She said there are more appropriate ways to make positive changes beyond the scope of the University.

Despite rocky negotiations, both the University and the AFSCME members are reluctant to predict the future.

Koehler said the possibilities for a settlement remain.

“Until those possibilities disappear, I’ll struggle with my 50-hour workweek,” he said.