U’s labor unions to begin negotiations

Matt Graham

The University will begin negotiating a new contract with its labor unions representing approximately 5,000 University employees this week.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees clerical, health-care and technical-union contracts are up at the end of June, as well as the Teamsters.

AFSCME Local 3800 President Phyllis Walker said the focus during negotiations this time around is on livable wages.

“A livable wage is being able to take a vacation every year, a livable wage means being able to buy a modest home in a safe neighborhood Ö. A livable wage is not just being able to pay for necessities,” Walker said.

She said $15.40 per hour, the average pay of AFSCME union workers at the University, does not qualify as a livable wage.

AFSCME Local 3937 President Candace Lund said students are not getting the services they deserve, despite yearly tuition increases.

“The tuition is going up, but the services are going down,” Lund said.

Even if a new deal isn’t reached, union leaders said they would work under their current contract and likely would not consider a strike until fall.

AFSCME Local 3800 began a strike in fall 2003 during the last round of contract negotiations. But union leaders said the various AFSCME units are now united in their contract negotiations, and a strike by one union will mean a strike by all.

Walker said the AFSCME clerical and health workers originally planned to negotiate together, but the University wouldn’t allow a unified negotiating committee.

Walker said the administration is worried because all the unions striking together could shut down the University, but University negotiator Bob Altman said in correspondence with the union that there could be no joint negotiating committee because the University cannot grant time off to workers to negotiate for other labor unions.

Though they will not bargain at the same table, Walker said all the unions will be united.

But Patti Dion, director of the Office of Human Resources, said “(the University) will proceed to the bargaining table in the same way that we do with every negotiation.”

Despite the possibility that the unions could all strike together, she said this round of negotiations differs from 2003 because the University’s success at the Legislature means the negotiations won’t be conducted “in a wage-freeze environment.”

Jamie VanGeest contributed to this article.