AFSCME workers are vital to U

The underlying message of an e-mail sent by Provost E. Thomas Sullivan devalues the worth of AFSCME members.

On August 24, University Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs E. Thomas Sullivan sent an e-mail to students in regards to the looming employee strike, which is set to begin tomorrow. In this e-mail, Provost Sullivan assured students that “should a strike occur, classes will begin as scheduled and normal operations of the University will continue.”

The truth of this statement remains to be seen, but the underlying message devalues the worth of these employees to the University community more than the dismal contract offers already have. Provost Sullivan’s statements give the impression that the jobs performed by these employees are unimportant or trivial at best.

The employees poised to strike are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and include clerical, technical and health-care workers at the University. According to Workday Minnesota, in the past five years these workers have seen a decrease of 5 percent in wages, adjusted for inflation. During the same time period, administrative salaries rose by 27 percent and faculty salaries by 19 percent. President Bob Bruininks’ salary rose by 73 percent. These numbers certainly emphasize a University stance on these workers’ worth similar to Provost Sullivan’s.

No wonder 72 percent of the union workers voted in support of the strike.

The workers involved perform tasks that are critical to a functioning University, including entering payroll for student workers and research assistants, running the database of undergraduate majors, managing the waitlists and permission numbers for classes, making sure courses have a meeting space, providing students with access to government documents or making sure the dental students pull the right tooth, just to name a few.

So if Provost Sullivan expects the University to run as smoothly as normal, one wonders whether the University has hired temporary workers to fill the positions of these “front-line” employees, because the vacant positions certainly seem vital to “normal operations.”

Some University student workers who graduated this summer and whose positions would have ended at that point might also fill these vacant spots. A friend of mine, who fits that description and works in a temporary position, has been told by her nonunion manager that her position could be extended due to circumstances.

Although she is unclear of the motives of this request, she is essentially being asked to cross the picket lines in order for “normal operations” to continue. If that is the University’s idea of maintaining continuity – by asking employees not given the benefit of union protection to stay on – then it is obvious that without additional help, campus would not function properly without the AFSCME workers.

I urge you to stand in solidarity with the underpaid, underappreciated University workers. Ask your professors to hold classes off campus in support, sign a petition, donate money to the support fund or dive right into the picketing action with signs in hand.

Chelsey Perkins welcomes comments at [email protected]