In response to Michael Teachout’s opinions piece in Tuesday’s Daily, I’d like to make a few points.
First, it is Minnesota law that public sector unions have to have full and fair-share members – not a policy of either the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees or the University. This is something Teachout has been told several times.
Being a full member costs about $2 more per paycheck. Why anyone would voluntarily give up full membership rights in order to save an extra couple of dollars is beyond me, but that’s the choice some make.
“The union does not have the support of its members, as evidenced by the 65 percent that crossed the picket line,” Teachout claimed. The much bandied-about “more than 50 percent” the University administration repeatedly released is an estimate at best, because, as anyone familiar with the University knows, we simply do not have the capability to do a University-wide attendance-taking. Not even PeopleSoft could come up with anything better than an estimate.
Even assuming the estimate is fairly accurate, it lumps full members together with fair-share members. If you look at the full members alone, I believe our best estimate was somewhere between 75 and 80 percent striking (and in the interest of fairness, this is not a hard statistic; AFSCME cannot get an exact number any more than the University can).
Teachout also presumes the people who crossed the picket line did so because they disagreed with the strike. This might be true of some, but most I spoke with did so because they could not afford to lose a paycheck.
Also upsetting Teachout is that while AFSCME was able to send numerous communications during the strike, there was a 10-day time lapse between the end of the strike and receiving the contract terms in the mail.
Yes, during the strike we were able to put all our time and energy into doing union work. Now that we are back at work, we are not able to get communication out as quickly as we did during the strike. Our local office has one full-time employee; the rest of us are volunteers who work full-time at our University jobs.
The offer was discussed in vague terms because we felt it was fair to allow each member to read the whole thing thoroughly and decide individually whether to vote to accept it.
As far as the accusation that our union leaders are “out of touch with their constituency,” if Teachout had attended any of the general strike meetings held during the final stages of negotiations, he would know how utterly absurd that statement is. I am amazed at the union’s level of commitment to upholding what is best for all University workers. This contract offer is, in my opinion, pretty crappy. However, it is considerably better than what we were offered before:
ï Instead of a $200 lump sum, we now get $300.
ï We will be given a pre-tax spending account to help defray the costs of the new health plan.
ï The bottom several steps in a number of job classifications are being eliminated, making peoples’ step increases larger.
ï There are contract language changes included that we have been fighting for since the union’s inception.
Perhaps it’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. If Teachout is really concerned about getting a lousy contract, my advice would be to vent his (perfectly justified) anger at the University administration, rather than at the people who are struggling to help him.
Sarah Lange is an office specialist in the department of cultural studies and comparative literature. She welcomes comments at [email protected]