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Episode 105: The Top Story with Devlin Epding

Join Hana Ikramuddin and Alberto Gomez for In The Know’s newest show, “The Top Story,” where In The Know staff break down and discuss one of the Minnesota Daily’s most compelling stories of the month. For the series’ first episode, Devlin Epding breaks down his Nov. 8 story, “A breakdown of recent UMN-area strikes.”

ALBERTO GOMEZ: Hi everyone. My name is Alberto Gomez.

HANA IKRAMUDDIN: And I’m Hana Ikramuddin.

GOMEZ: And you’re listening to In The Know’s new show The Top Story where once a month we break down the Minnesota Daily’s most interesting or compelling stories. This week we’ve got-

IKRAMUDDIN: Devlin Epding.

GOMEZ: And uh, Devlin. What story are you breaking down right now?

DEVLIN EPDING: Um, I am breaking down why we have seen so many worker strikes around the university in Minneapolis recently. Especially, um, in the past six months or so.

GOMEZ: Okay.

IKRAMUDDIN: What drew you to reporting about unions?

EPDING: We’ve seen it a lot lately. Um, anything from nurses to mental health workers to clerical workers. and each union,

I think it’s very interesting to get into why, specifically because no, in no situation is exactly the same. Um, however, especially as a reporter, when we see something happening, happening over and over again, there’s a reason why usually. there’s an under an underlying reason, and I really wanted to try to look into it and see if I could find out why.

GOMEZ: So could you tell me a little bit more about the story that you’re specifically covering? You know, what’s happening right now?

EPDING: Right. So obviously we’ve had previous strikes or contract negotiations between workers, workers’ unions and, uh, the university that also happened in Minneapolis, um, like I said with nurses as well.

But we have contract negotiations that are in the works with unions like AFSCME, which represents clerical workers, healthcare workers, at the university. And obviously we have Teamsters that, food service workers at the university that just recently reached, reached a tentative agreement with the university for wage increases and other contract, uh, benefits that they have been fighting for for a long time now.

IKRAMUDDIN: Gotcha. And what have you found so far? Like, are there any common threads?

EPDING: Especially, especially since the pandemic, a lot of issues that I have heard from people that I’ve talked to, um, in these unions is that the pandemic exacerbated a lot of problems that, uh, workers were already feeling.

So in that, an example would be, workers, a lot of, a lot of workers at these different unions, regardless of their position, they were told to continue working. Um, were not provided necessarily safe, um, working conditions. So if someone was sick, they may not have been sent home. they may not have been able to afford to go home because of the wages they were provided. necessary PPE may not have been available to them and so, a lot. So a lot of those common threads have been popping up. Um, specifically with, uh, AFSCME, they have been fighting for some racial equity in their, in their contract. So, um, an example would be they have been, um, part of the- their negotiations, they, they have not, that they have not backed down from, is they are fighting to have Juneteenth be a paid holiday, um, just as it is federally.

And another aspect is that they have workers who, um, also do additional work outside of their job, their job description, that they are translators, and they’re not paid additionally for that. And, um, they are fighting to have additional compensation for additional work.

GOMEZ: So who have you spoken with so far for this story?

EPDING: Um, I have spoken to workers from AFSCME. So let’s see, I don’t have their names. I have spoken to, uh, a mental health worker from um, SEIU, um, which is the union representing the mental health workers here on campus.

GOMEZ: And, uh, you don’t have the names available right now, but they can be found in the story properly.

EPDING: Yes. Yes they can.

GOMEZ: And that should be coming out this week, is that correct?

EPDING: Um, it should be. I can, I’m trying to, I’m trying to get that out.

GOMEZ: Tentatively, uh, this week. so, All right. No worries. We’ll be sure to stay updated with that as well. Tell me more about this, though.

EPDING: Yes. So these workers, they, they have been, working with the university and negotiating with the university for, um, a while now, typically, these, um, deals, this isn’t the first time this is, this has happened.

Like, uh, for example, AFSCME had a one day strike in May of this year, um, for the same, for the same reasons. This isn’t unnecessarily uncommon for, um, negotiations to come up again. Contracts are usually 18 months to three years-ish.

The mental health worker I was speaking with told me that “A strike is not, it’s not sexy.” It’s not what, It’s not taking a day off of work and just being able to sit and watch Netflix for a day. It is on, you are on the picket lines. You are unsure of if you will still have a job. It is, it takes a lot of courage. It takes a lot of bravery to go out and risk your job. Risk a position that while it may not be ideal, it it, it’s paying something.

These workers, this isn’t, this isn’t what they want either. The university is, is working with them and they may have some, some concerns as well that this may be, this isn’t what the university wants to happen, but this isn’t what the workers want either.

GOMEZ: So of the, of the folks that you have spoken with, why have they decided to strike then? Like why, Why do it this way rather than? You know, peaceful negotiations, quote unquote.

EPDING: Right, Exactly. So these negotiations, they, they are ongoing. And a lot of times, um, specifically with, um, AFSCME, um, for example, it’s, it is still a last resort. So negotiations are still ongoing, but sometimes you have, you have a couple sticking points, for example, like Juneteenth or, uh, an increased compensation for translators.

But if something that you, as a union, really feel that is required and, um, you will not concede some- sometimes an agreement can’t, can’t be made, or at least isn’t made for a long, extended period of time and strikes historically, um, from, from who I have spoken with, it’s what they feel has been historically, has historically worked and has been historically effective.

IKRAMUDDIN: Is AFSCME kind of on the path to strike, or what does that look like?

EPDING: So, I believe today there was an update on, um, their negotiations. So, um, um, there was an update, um, in their stalled contract negotiations. So their negotiations are still ongoing. Um, like I said, they don’t want to, um, a lot of these workers do not want to.

Um, but it. It is still a possibility from what I’ve been told, um. Obvi-. They don’t want to provide a lot of concrete information on, you know, the specifics of when or where, or this will definitely be happening because it isn’t, it isn’t definitely happening yet. Um, it’s something that all parties want to avoid.

So this update, um, just from today, um, was released. And, um,

GOMEZ: Who’s that update coming from?

EPDING: Um, it is coming from, I’m not sure if this is pre, I may, I, I may mispronounce this, but it is, uh, Cherrene, uh, Horazuk. Um, and it is, they are, uh, representatives of, um, afs- of AFSCME. Um, I believe, uh, Cherrene, I have spoken, um, with her over email and, uh, she’s in a leadership position with the, with the union.

GOMEZ: And, uh, are you reading us what’s on that email?

EPDING: Yes, I’m, uh, I, I am pulling it up right now, so

GOMEZ: No worries. You’re all good.

EPDING: Um, like I, like I said, um, these union members have a couple sticking points that they really want to get across. Um, and the local chapter, the latest, um, increase. So university leaders, um, provided an update on the contract.

Um, and this is a response to it, so, updated offer from the university, um, included a $3 wage increase across the board, which the university said was an increase to keep up not only with inflation.

GOMEZ: That would be an increase from 15 to 18 or like-


GOMEZ: Or is that a little, I-is that still a little unclear and foggy from what you can extrapolate?

EPDING: Um, I believe it is a, it is a tad unclear still from what I know. A lot of the, many offers from the university, the university has touted that, um, their wage increases that they have offered, um, have been some of the largest that they have provided these union members, um, in, in the, to date. But the problem that the uni, that union members are finding, or at least, um, expressing is that, um, with inflation being roughly 10% at the moment, this, at this point in the year, wage increases, even ones that can be seen as significant, they’re not enough to keep up with inflation. So, um, union members are feeling that even if they’re going to go through all this work, all this effort to get a new contract that is going to last a while, it has to be worth it. It has to be worth their time and I mean, their work.

IKRAMUDDIN: So does the new offer from the university like include anything that we’ve talked about regarding translators and like those other concerns you mentioned?

EPDING: Um, according to AFSCME, um, the, the two that I mentioned, Juneteenth and the additional compensation for translators, those are two sticking points that the university is using as, uh, trade offers almost. Uh, there, they’re chips on the bargaining table. So, um, we will give you Juneteenth if, um, the union will make concessions.

GOMEZ: What type of concessions?

EPDING: Um, that I don’t know, that has not been provided to me.

GOMEZ: The university hasn’t made like any statements on what their concessions have to be?

EPDING: Not that, not, not that I know of. Um, a lot of, a lot of these, a lot of these negotiations haven’t been put out in, in detail a lot. And I think a lot of it is just trying to provide as, um, it’s trying to keep it as, as, uh, little publicized as possible.

We want to, they want, they want to just not get into specifics, just get a deal done.

GOMEZ: They, being the university?

EPDING: Um, both parties, I believe.

IKRAMUDDIN: How has it been reaching out to the university to ask for those details?

EPDING: Surprisingly easy, actually, um. So I spoke, um, I spoke with Jake Ricker, um, over email, which for those who may not know, that’s, that that’s how you communicate with the university

GOMEZ: Like over email or just with Jake Ricker?

EPDING: First contact with Jake Ricker is, at least in my experience at, I don’t think I’ve ever heard his voice, um, working for the daily.

So in email, it’s not always for us as reporters, but

GOMEZ: Why is that though? I, that’s something I think a lot of listeners may not understand why what’s so wrong with just an email?

EPDING: So a lot of what we want to do, we are still, we, we’re reporters. It’s our job to talk with people, but that is our job to talk with people so, in an email setting, you’re not having a conversation, you’re having a series of statements.

So in a, in a conversation, you can adjust for it. Like in a podcast or you’re adjusting for tone, we’re having a conversation. Um, you can make adjustments based on responses. Um, and you are just being, you’re, you’re being people. So in, in an email setting there’s, there’s none of that. It is a lot more, You also have a lot more scripted, um, responses. Um, people don’t respond until they have a response that they want to give you, which can affect the information that you get and can ultimately, ultimately affect your story. And also, as a reporter, you don’t have the opportunity for, to adjust what you want to, to ask if you, uh, get additional information.

And there is just, when you have, when you get fewer degrees from just first person communication, you just lose credibility.

GOMEZ: So how is that affecting this story in particular then with, with talking with just Jake Ricker over email?

EPDING: With Jake Ricker every, every statement that the university provides, it’s going to be the statement that the university wants to give you, and that is just going to be across the board.

It affects the story in that you’re, you will, you will not get the university in, not that you would want to, but you, you wouldn’t, get them talking off the cuff. Um, provide really intimate details about what, um, the situation is on their side. Um, Jake Ricker actually did offer to have a, uh, union, uh, an expert, um, at the university, talk to me, help explain how negotiations, um, work, uh, from the university’s perspective. Um, I have not spoken with them yet, but that was an opportunity provided. But it’s just another. It’s just another script basically is what it is. So it is very, it’s very neat. It’s very tidy. There is not a comma out of place, and it’s, it’s what you kind of have to deal with.

Um, it’s, it’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t affect. If it affects the credibility of the story, it would affect. We wouldn’t be able to have a lot of stories at the Daily because that’s just how we communicate with, with this body.

IKRAMUDDIN: How has communication gone with AFSCME and other unions? Are they kind of like the same or are they more willing to kind of get on the phone with you?

EPDING: It really depends on the union actually. So I have reached out to at least five, maybe six, I can’t remember exact unions. I have gotten responses from maybe ha- maybe half. So I have spent hours at this point calling different, different, uh, leadership. members for different unions, including, uh, nurses, um, teachers, and other just healthcare unions around the university.

Uh, for example, I’ve, I’ve made several phone calls to, um, a parent that was for a teacher’s strike, that was earlier this year. She was a member of the PTO because I couldn’t find anybody else, but I just want to hear from somebody that may have thoughts on it, even if you can point me in another direction.

So it. Communication process has been rough for some, but like SEI, SEIU, for example, they were more than willing to have their story heard.

GOMEZ: Sorry, who is SEIU?

EPDING: It is the, um, union representing mental health workers on campus.

GOMEZ: Oh, okay.

EPDING: So that SEIU, um, stands for Service Employees International Union.

GOMEZ: Okay.

EPDING: So obviously, um, as it implies it is international, but, um, just the local chapter here um, in, in Minneapolis is who I’m speaking with.

GOMEZ: Okay. That sounds kind of frustrating though. How do you not just tear your dang hair out over this?


GOMEZ: Sorry.

EPDING: You, uh, you do, you, you take it personally. Um, you, you shouldn’t ‘cuz it’s your job.

But you do as a reporter, you want to get everything right. You want to talk, you always wanna make the extra phone call. You want to get the extra conversation because you want the story to be as good as it possibly can be. And you want to get as many perspectives as you can. It’s just not possible sometimes.

So, especially when it comes to this story um, when, when we’re talking trends, when we’re talking, um, a pattern of something happening, um, you, you need to talk with as many people as possible. And, um, Alberto, like you said, with not getting the phone call back, you just have to, you have to workshop, you have to communicate.

And basically the end of the story is to figure something else out. There’s always another avenue you can take to get your reporting and make it as good as it can be.

GOMEZ: That’s what a lot of this is, isn’t it? Just like taking what, whatever resources we can find. Right?

EPDING: Uh, taking what you can find and leaning on a lot of people that know a lot more than you do.

GOMEZ: Yeah.

IKRAMUDDIN: When contract negotiations typically end, how, how does that usually happen? Like how many rounds, like in terms of AFSCME, do you think they’re gonna have before they kind of come to a conclusion?

EPDING: Um, so when I spoke to them, um, there wasn’t a clear idea of when this was, when the end was in sight um, for them. Basically, the attitude that I received from them was, we know what we’re fighting for and we’re not wavering from that.

So there was, there was less of a focus on a timeline and more of them knowing what they want and what they need as workers. So, um, I could, I couldn’t tell you like what, what kind of timeline we’re looking at here. Um, but I will say, especially as contract negotiations stall out, make, um, don’t make progress over a significant period of time, you’re looking closer and closer to a strike.

IKRAMUDDIN: Well, thank you so much for coming. Is there anything else you wanted to say that we didn’t ask?

EPDING: Um, I think you guys did a good job of covering it. You, you guys, you guys, uh, asked what I had.

GOMEZ: So no worries. Thank you so much Devlin. We really appreciate you coming on the show. Like we said earlier, uh, this stories will be coming out hopefully sometime this week.

Uh, you guys will probably listen to this on a Friday, so might have already come out. Either way, be sure to check the description of the story on the Minnesota Daily’s website. We’ll link it to, we’ll link Devlin’s story for everyone to listen to. I don’t have anything else to say. Hana, would you like to say any last words?


GOMEZ: Devlin, anything at all?

EPDING: No. I appreciate you guys having me on.

GOMEZ: Of course. Thank you so much, Devlin. Um, thank you guys very much for tuning in today. Like I said, at, like we said at the start of this show is the first in a hopefully longer series. Let us know what you think. Remember to email us at, email us at [email protected].

Let us know if you like this kind of story or if you definitely don’t want to hear this kind of stuff. Happy to take criticism from our listeners. So without further, further ado, uh, thank you guys so much for standing in, for sitting in the studio with us. Uh, have a wonderful night. Make good choices.

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  • Gomical
    Dec 10, 2022 at 4:14 pm

    Died by being fractioned in half hahahahaa