Strikers back on the job

by Patricia Drey

After 15 days away from her job in Appleby Hall, clerical worker Marlene Parkhurst said she was glad to be back.

“I’m happy to come inside and come back to work, and I hope we have a really good settlement,” Parkhurst said.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Locals 3800 and 3801 strike, which began Oct. 21, ended Tuesday, leaving those who returned Wednesday with a little extra work and mixed feelings of accomplishment, returning workers said.

Parkhurst said she had plenty of work to return to, but she thinks the union gained a victory through the strike.

“A lot of work I do just sat here, and people were inconvenienced,” she said. “We gained respect, and you can’t put a dollar figure on that.”

In the Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs Graduate Programs Office, four of seven full-time staff members were out on strike. Of those, two returned to work today.

Returning worker Stacey Grimes said checking e-mail off site helped lessen the amount of work she returned to Wednesday. She said it has been busy but not overwhelming.

Although Grimes said she was happy and relieved the union and University reached a tentative agreement, she was also somewhat disappointed with the contract proposal.

“It wasn’t, in my eyes, a financial victory. It was more of a moral victory,” Grimes said.

There were a few aspects of the new agreement, such as allowing laid-off workers to come back at their same salary and keeping step increases in the contract, that addressed concerns important to union members, Grimes said.

In the law clinic, where second- and third-year law students under supervision represent clients, the end of the strike meant the clinic could get up and running again, said Carol Bruner, who does legal secretarial work in the clinic.

“The operations were very much cut back,” said Bruner, who had not been at work since the strike began. “The students weren’t here. The phones weren’t ringing. We quit taking cases here.”

Bruner, who was on the negotiating committee, said the union did not gain a lot between the old contract and the new contract, but union members were able to keep some things that mattered to them, such as job security and step increases, which are raises given on the anniversary of employment.

“The offer as it stands now is not a good offer, but it’s something we can live with until the next time around,” Bruner said.

To ease the transition back to work, the University’s Office of Human Resources has a group of people working to put together services, office director Patti Dion said.

“We are glad these people are back to work, and we want to move past the strike into a more normal work environment,” Dion said. “Our focus is to move forward and offer our services and help the healing begin.”

Dion said she did not anticipate friction between AFSCME Local 3800 union members and other University union members over contract inequity because the union’s tentative agreement is within the same parameters as other employee groups’ agreements.

In the admissions office, the mood was positive as striking workers returned, admissions director Wayne Sigler said.

“We’re very, very pleased to have the folks that were on strike back,” Sigler said. “They’re important members of our family and they contribute a great deal to the success of our office.”