Wage freeze, layoffs will not combat tuition hikes

MThe loudest government voices are calling for the dismantling of public service, for wage freezes, for layoffs, for less in the way of health care and human service.

The loudest government voices would have us believe a wage freeze is the answer to rising tuition, could save our jobs (though no one has promised job security) and could make up for a missing $4.56 billion. They would have those of us who care most deeply about the University and perhaps depend on it most – the students and employees – fighting over who has to pay for a budget crisis neither group created.

A few weeks from now AFSCME Local 3800, the University clerical workers’ union, will sit down to negotiate a contract with the University. We will be negotiating in the context of a state and national agenda of scarcity for the majority and tremendous wealth for the few. We will not accept a wage freeze or layoffs as responsible or sensible solutions to the attack on this and other public institutions.

It has already been said, and bears repeating, that the layoff of every single public employee in Minnesota would not make up the budget deficit. This problem requires a real solution. The impoverishment of working Minnesotans is not the answer and must be opposed.

Instead, the current regressive tax strategy, which shifts income from working families to the wealthiest of our society, must be reversed. Loopholes for the wealthy must be closed. Tax laws favoring corporate subsidies must also be overturned. The ordinary person pays sales tax on the vast majority of his or her purchases. Why are corporations allowed to make capital purchases – worth millions of dollars – tax free?

At the University, we enter these fiscal discussions with a bare-bones support staff. We have lost nearly 1,300 clerical positions in 12 years. That’s a third of the University’s clerical workforce. The work has not gone away. Technology has increased the workload. There are more students at the University. The University must resist the temptation to cut staffing levels.

The lowest-paid employees of this institution – some of whom live several dollars an hour below a livable wage – cannot afford a freeze in wages. While the public service we depend on dwindles and our wages and jobs are cut, there is no government voice calling for a corresponding freeze on the cost of housing, food, clothing, health care and energy.

In the weeks and months ahead, our union will be working to make our voices heard at the Legislature and here at the University. We call on the entire community to join with us in defending the University, its students and the people who work so hard to make it run.

Phyllis Walker is an accounts specialist at the University Law School and is

president of AFSCME Local 3800. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]