Support strike by not crossing picket lines

In opposition to the University-offered contract, which freezes wages and increases workers’ health insurance costs, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 members announced Friday they will strike.

In the coming days, students will have an ethical dilemma: whether to cross clerical workers’ picket lines. They will decide which side they support – that of the University employees (many of them single mothers) who barely make a living wage or University administrators who are solving their budget problem on the backs of those employees.

This is not a matter to be neutral on. Students should consider the following: Clerical workers are exercising their right to choose union representation and engage in collective bargaining with their employer. This right has little meaning if unionized employees cannot engage in effective strikes, because striking is one of the few points of leverage available in negotiating with employers.

Second, this dispute is not merely an isolated disagreement between the administration and clerical workers. It is occurring in our workplace and place of education, and its resolution will affect students and non-striking employees.

The clerical workers’ union requests all who are able to refuse to cross their picket lines. Crossing the line makes it easier for the University to maintain normal operations, which weakens strikers’ collective power.

What does it mean to not cross the picket line? It might require not entering campus buildings where picket lines are. It might mean asking your professor or teaching assistant to hold class off campus or delay an exam or presentation.

The union and its supporters urge students and employees to consider what sort of University we should have. Should it be one with high tuition costs, high salaries for top administrators and flashy sports facilities, where the employees are overworked and underpaid? Or should it be a place all Minnesotans can afford to attend and where employees are respected, well compensated and united in a common vision of education?

Everyone has an interest in attending a University that treats students and workers ethically, which means ensuring employees are paid a living wage and able to afford health care. The University claims to face a budget crisis, and, accordingly, must determine its priorities. Cutting the take-home pay of its lowest-paid workers is not a priority we can ethically support.

Kate Deters is a second-year law student. She welcomes comments at [email protected]