Union members critical of University’s proposal

Devon Sykes

Members of the local American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees unions had one message to get out Friday: They’re dissatisfied with the University’s proposal for pay raises and health care costs.

Members of AFSCME locals 3800, 3937 and 3260 set up information booths on the University’s Twin Cities campuses to get their message out. They held signs and handed out pamphlets detailing their objections to University proposals.

Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800, said union members were “standing together to give the message that when we go back to negotiations, the U has to bring some real money to the table.”

A group of AFSCME members gathered at approximately 12:45 p.m. in front of Morrill Hall and marched inside to President Robert Bruininks’ office.

They wanted to present him with a poster showing approximately 1,200 signatures of people who support the AFSCME negotiating committee. The poster also listed demands for a livable wage, an equitable distribution of resources – so the lowest paid are not forced to pay the most for health care – and respect for the union.

When the marchers reached Bruininks’ office, his door was locked, and the members were told he wasn’t there.

The major issue on the negotiating table is the wage increase. Under the University’s plan, AFSCME workers would get an annual 1.5 percent raise. AFSCME negotiators are asking for a 6 percent increase.

AFSCME members are also asking for an extra step increase – a 2 percent pay raise based on seniority, for those who didn’t get one during last year’s wage freeze.

“We don’t have a settlement on the pay piece,” said Carol Carrier, Office of Human Resources vice president. “Our offer includes an across-the-board increase plus steps, so we don’t see it as the 1.5 percent they’re characterizing it as.”

Additionally, union members complain of rising increasing care costs. The University is introducing a four-tiered system, dividing the premium rates into groups of employees, employees plus children, employees plus spouse, and employees plus spouse and children. Previously, the only categories were employees and employees plus family.

Michele Rockne-Semkow, a member of AFSCME Local 3800, said her health care costs have already doubled and will further increase if the University adopts its proposal.

“The health care costs are being pushed off on the workers,” she said.

The unions propose wage-based sliding scale health care premiums.

“We have an affordable health care plan, an affordable base plan in particular,” Carrier said. “The University is taking many steps to ensure that the health care plan remains affordable.”

According to the University’s contract negotiations Web site, this change is “not intended to shift any costs away from the University to the employee.”