Union rallies for salary

AFSCME, which includes U clerical and technical staff, took its issues to the Capitol.

Karlee Weinmann

About 1,000 union representatives – including University staff members from several campuses – filled the Capitol rotunda and lined its balconies Wednesday, calling on legislators for change.

The annual American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Minnesota’s Day on the Hill, with this year’s theme of “It’s People Time,” offers an opportunity for all union members to gather in St. Paul and meet with state representatives and senators to voice concerns.

The day started with a presentation of issues the union planned to address, followed by informational meetings, a rally and discussion with legislators that extended beyond the Capitol to a reception at St. Paul’s Crowne Plaza Hotel.

University representatives specifically focused on improving the conditions for upcoming contract negotiations, slated to begin this spring. As circumstances currently stand, the University staff isn’t a beneficiary of a 2 percent salary supplement allocated to the rest of Minnesota’s state employees.

This supplement guarantees leverage for employees in the negotiation process because it allows proportional leeway in employers’ budgets.

Since the University operates with virtual fiscal autonomy from the state, unionized University employees invited Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Legislature to mandate similar salary supplements within the school budget.

Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800, which represents University clerical workers, said she is disappointed to see the salaries of high-ranking University officials increase while staff members’ wages barely cover the cost of living.

“Everyone who works, no matter what they do, should make the living wage,” she said. “This year (in contract negotiations), union members are willing and ready to fight for a livable wage.”

When funding is funneled from the state to the University, it is granted effectively in a lump sum and the funds are not earmarked for specific usage, State Budget Director Jim Schowalter said.

“The University is going to get some dollar amount from the state, and it has made some promises as to how to use it in the future,” he said. “It’s up to the University to use tuition, state funding and other revenue for employee and faculty costs.”

Candace Lund, a library assistant at Andersen Library and member of AFSCME Local 3937, said the University and the state need to form a budget that meets everyone’s needs.

“If we have a governor that doesn’t give us an adequate budget, then we’re going to have layoffs,” she said. “And that makes it hard for everybody.”

Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said while specific salary increases for University employees were not outlined in the state budget, a $153 million, or a 15.2 percent, increase in funding for the biennium was allotted to the institution.

“Those increases would be more than enough to cover employee salary increases,” he said. “But that’s the decision of Ö the U of M to determine how those salary increases take place.”

Of the total amount granted to the University, $38 million was specifically restricted to the University-Mayo Clinic partnership. Twenty-five million dollars was a one-time award, which cannot be used to increase salaries since it cannot be expected on an annual basis.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, University chief financial officer, said that a 3.25 percent salary supplement was included in the University’s initial budget request, but Pawlenty designated funds to other areas.

“It is true we have autonomy to move that money around, but we are cognizant of and try to respect wishes of the governor and Legislature,” he said. “We don’t just move it around willy-nilly. We have to pay attention to the (Legislature’s) priorities.”

Walker said a concentrated effort by state Congress to ensure the proper allocation of funds is paramount.

“If Legislature allocates money to the University, they may think staff get their fair share, but they won’t unless Legislature mandates it,” she said.

A 2 percent salary supplement would serve as a foundation for salary increases and ease the amplification of raises since funds would already be designated for the purpose, according to Walker.

“The University could build on that 2 percent, and it would make anything above and beyond that easier for the University to increase wages,” she said.

Walker said the implementation of a salary supplement would offer employees more than financial well-being.

“It would provide a sense of security and would be very satisfying for staff members of the University to know that members of Legislature and the University think they’re worth that extra 2 percent,” she said.