U: More clericals reporting for work

Strike leaders say they have changed tactics to increase picketers’ visibility.

by Patricia Drey

The percentage of union-represented clerical workers who went to work increased by four points Thursday, according to the University.

Fifty-nine percent of clerical workers on University campuses went to work Thursday, up from 55 percent Wednesday – a number some experts said is low, some said is high and union leaders said is satisfactory.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 went on strike Tuesday.

Even 45 percent – the percentage of union-represented employees who went on strike Tuesday and Wednesday – is high enough to send a message to administrators, said Tom Karson, a labor educator at the University of Arkansas’ Labor Education Program.

“There’s no one telling union members they don’t have to work,” Karson said. “If 45 percent are risking the loss of pay and that would have a significant impact on the work of the University, that’s certainly enough to get the University’s attention.”

Adrienne Valdez, a labor education specialist at the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Hawaii, said it is surprising that a union would vote to strike, and then more than half the union would cross the picket lines. Eighty-eight percent of voting-eligible union members turned out for the strike vote, which Valdez said was high.

Because the count of people who showed up for work comes from the University, Valdez said they could be biased to make it appear the strike is not effective.

Carol Carrier, University vice president for human resources, said individual units report the number of striking employees to a central point in order to ensure accuracy.

Phyllis Walker, AFSCME Local 3800 president, said it would be impossible for the union to determine independently how many workers are on strike.

“What you see on the picket line does not reflect the total number of people who are on strike,” Walker said. “What we planned to get was a majority of our voting members, and we succeeded.”

AFSCME Local 3800 has approximately 1,156 voting members.

Labor and Community Strike Support Committee Co-Chairwoman Jessica Sundin said she estimates 70 percent of AFSCME Local 3800’s voting members are on strike.

It is unusual for more than half of union-represented workers to show up for work on the first day of a strike, said John Heywood, director of the master’s in human resources and labor relations program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Depending on what picketers hope to achieve, their strategy could differ, Heywood said.

In some cases, picketers hope to sway the public, so presenting large groups for television cameras would help achieve this, he said.

In other cases, picketers hope to prevent people from crossing picket lines, which changes the strategy, Heywood said.

On the first day of the strike, most picketers stood in front of the buildings where they work, but now more are joining other picketers and forming larger groups in more central locations, striking AFSCME Local 3800 member Betty Jo Johnson said.

Picketers started banding together to have greater visibility, said Johnson, a principal secretary for external relations in the College of Education and Human Development.

When picketers stood in front of buildings where they work, it forced those who crossed the picket lines to face them, which striking AFSCME Local 3800 member Karen Anderson said was an unpleasant experience.

Anderson said the union is trying to conduct the strike with class.

AFSCME Local 3800 Treasurer Brad Sigal said the union is attempting to conduct a “family-friendly” strike. Picketers are not allowed to yell insults or throw things, he said.

Sigal said the union is concentrating on major buildings, but most picketers are still near the buildings where they work.

The strike is one part of the union’s plan to put pressure on the University. Sigal said students are mobilizing to create a movement to support them, professors are meeting with University President Bob Bruininks to persuade him on the union’s behalf, and the union is working to get legislators to pressure the University.

State Rep. Karen Clark, D-Minneapolis, spoke in support of union members at a rally Thursday in front of Morrill Hall.

Approximately 100 union supporters attended the rally.