U union workers vote on contract

Jessica Thompson

Some University union workers have a choice – either approve a new contract or hit the picket lines.

University health care employees took to the polls Tuesday to vote on their tentative 2001-03 contract agreements with the University’s administration.

After repeated protests for increased wages and a less costly health care system, the University and its health care, clerical and technical workers reached a tentative settlement Sept. 27.

But University workers from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – about one-third of the University’s 14,330 employees – said the deal is inadequate and warn of a possible strike.

“Ideally, nobody wants to have to reject the offer and strike. But when the workers get pushed up against the wall, the options become more limited,” said AFSCME business representative Jo Pels.

The agreement includes a 3 percent wage increase for two consecutive years and a minimum wage of $12 per hour for employees working at least 20 hours per week.

The University’s administration said the pay increase and reduced employee co-pays for health insurance are evidence that the University is listening to workers’ demands.

“We believe we have a fair agreement out there, and we hope the members of the units support that,” said Carol Carrier, vice president for University human resources. “We believe we have put our best offer out on the table.”

But at the polls, workers voiced concern over the deal. Pels said the University’s new health care plan shifts costs to the workers and said University employees are paid far less than their equivalents in the private sector.

“Many people are either going to resign and leave the University, as they’ve been doing in mass, or they’ll reject the contract and strike,” Pels said.

University union members compared their demands to those of the roughly 23,000 state workers who recently ended a two-week strike. Many said they felt the strike motivated University workers who are facing a similar battle.

“They pushed the governor beyond where he was willing to go and got back to work in only two weeks … that makes workers feel empowered,” said Bruce Iverson, chief negotiator for the University workers.

Some workers at the polls disagreed, calling the state strike a waste of time and effort.

“With all the lost wages and minimal gains, (the state strike) was not at all worth it,” said a University dental assistant who wished to remain anonymous. “Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation.”

The union’s decision will be announced Nov. 1 or 2, after University clerical and technical workers cast their votes.


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