Several weeks ago, I lamented that as one of its fair-share workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 refused me the right to vote on the contract – along with 40 percent of those AFSCME Local 3800 represents. I had not joined because I do not want to contribute to the union’s political views. Just last week, at the national level, AFSCME officially endorsed Howard Dean for president. For those of you who think the endorsement is a great choice, what if you were told that you were being forced to contribute to President George W. Bush’s campaign?
It took about 10 days before we were officially notified of the terms we were told would be sent to us. This time lapse could not have been because of a lack of ability; during the strike we received numerous updates through the mail regarding what was happening on the “front lines.” As I learned about the terms from other sources, I thought the lack of communication – other than glowing generalities about respect and support – was because of the fact that the union actually got a worse deal than it was first offered.
Previously, we were told we would not receive a wage increase for the current year, but to offset the health-care increases, we would receive a $200 lump sum payment in January. Although step increases (2 percent raises on the anniversary of employment) were also frozen during the two years of the contract, everyone would receive a 2.5 percent raise beginning in July.
After two weeks of striking without pay, the union negotiated a settlement that would actually be worse in the long run than the one the University first proposed. Those whose anniversary fell between July 1 and the contract’s ratification date would receive their step increases for the year. Those of us who didn’t will receive a $300 lump sum in January. No across-the-board raises will be given July 1. Instead, step increases will be allowed next year. So instead of a full year with a 2.5 percent raise, most will only have a few months of a 2 percent raise. We would also be given a $200 contribution to a health-care reimbursement account in January 2005. The only positive is those at the tops of their steps (very few) would receive a 4 percent raise as of July 1. Part-time workers who are not part of the health plan would lose out on all the lump sums and would only receive their step. Lump sums do not replace percentage raises as a large part of the sum is lost to taxes and has no lasting value like a salary increase would.
The union does not have the support of its members or those it represents, as was evidenced by the 65 percent who crossed the picket line. If members would actually look at the contract, they would realize it is a worse deal and would refuse to ratify it, sending the union back to the bargaining table.
Secondly, we would begin to seek either decertification of the union or replacement of the union officers who are out of touch with their constituency. Leadership is not personified by refusing to listen to the concerns of those you lead. The union knew going into the strike that more than 50 percent of its members would refuse to strike.
The University could help by actually allowing its workers a choice in whether they wish to be represented by the union. In the three years I have worked at the University, I have lost more than $1,200 in union dues for contract bargaining and negotiations. Now after all of their bargaining, I am losing more than I would have without their bargaining efforts.
Michael Teachout works in the marketing services department at the Carlson School of Management. He welcomes comments at [email protected]