Tentative deal still needs U, union approval

K.C. Howard

University representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees cut through months of tension and reached a tentative agreement with the administration early Thursday.

The accord awaits approval from the University’s Board of Regents and University AFSCME employees, but the tentative agreement is a hopeful sign for state union workers – who plan to strike Monday – and the University Teamsters, who are still negotiating with the administration.

“This was a very long and challenging round of bargaining,” said Carol Carrier, vice president for human resources. “We’re very pleased to have a fair and equitable tentative agreement.”

About one-third of the University’s 14,330 employees are union and have been battling the administration over the past month for better health care benefits and wage increases.

Carrier said she thinks the accord covers issues important to both sides of the bargaining table.

But Phyllis Walker, president of the clerical AFSCME Local 3800, said she isn’t so sure the University’s 2,000 clerical employees will accept the agreement.

“We do the real work at the ‘U’ and we are totally underpaid,” Walker said. “We go to the negotiating tables every two years and we try to get the University to pay us a liveable wage, and they refuse.”

The University and AFSCME’s 2001-03 agreement includes 3 percent wage increases for two consecutive years and a minimum wage of $12 per hour for employees working at least 20 hours per week. University AFSCME employees will also receive a one-time payment of $300 to assist with the new University health care plan’s increased costs.

AFSCME and Teamsters have fought for wage increases for more than three years. Although Walker said Thursday’s offer is inadequate, she said she felt it was progress.

About 30 percent of University clerical workers currently receive less than $12 an hour. Their average salary is about $13.65 an hour. “This is a huge gain for workers at the University,” she said.

Carol Dunn, a representative of University AFSCME health care workers, said the raise to $12 per hour affected only 10 of the 165 employees in her department.

“We’re not going to recommend they approve it,” Dunn said.

University technical, clerical and health care employees affiliated with AFSCME will vote in the next two weeks to approve or deny the deal. If they don’t approve, it’s back to the drawing board with a looming strike on the horizon.

Talks ceased at 5:30 a.m. Thursday, and most negotiators took the day off to recover. AFSCME representatives said they struck the tentative deal because the University would offer nothing better. “You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t,” Dunn said.

State negotiations

State and union talks resumed Thursday after a two-week hiatus due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Negotiations will continue until Sunday. If no deal is struck, AFSCME’s 19,000 state workers and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees’ 10,500 employees will strike Monday, depriving the state of 60 percent of its government work force.

“We hope to have some success and that a strike can be averted, but the state must be prepared if a strike were to occur,” said Laura Bishop, spokeswoman for the state’s strike response team.

Gov. Jesse Ventura earlier this month ordered the National Guard to replace striking government worker positions. The Guard would cover only the state’s most vulnerable agencies, including veteran’s and nursing homes.

K.C. Howard welcomes comments at [email protected]