Minnesota workers strike for first time in 60 years

MINNEAPOLIS – About 1,900 University of Minnesota clerical workers took to the picket lines after contract negotiations between their union and the school broke down. It was the first strike at the university in nearly 60 years.

The full-time workers, represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, went on strike at 6:30 a.m. at the Twin Cities, Morris, Duluth and Crookston campuses. No new negotiations had been scheduled.

“The university did not present any offers that differed in any significant respect with the offer that the clerical workers rejected,” said Stephanie Yorek, a member of the union’s negotiating committee.

Yorek was among about 50 people gathered outside of Coffman Memorial Union as the strike began.

“This university has devalued this work force for the last 150 years. This just continues that legacy. The university does not respect us,” Yorek said while carrying a picket sign.

Asked what the effects of the strike will be, she said: “The lines will be long. Telephones will go unanswered.”

University President Robert Bruininks said the university’s offer was “fair” and that the school couldn’t give the union what it was asking for because of budget cuts.

“We have asked all employees to share in this sacrifice,” he said.

Bruininks’ Monday night news conference was interrupted by protesting workers, who carried signs and shouted through windows before media relations workers shuttered and closed them.

He said the school’s proposed two-year contract stipulated a salary freeze in the first year, a 2.5 percent salary increase the second year and an increase in the employee share of the health care premium cost totaling $15 a paycheck for single coverage on the base plan.

The president said the increased cost would be offset by a $200 one-time payment to all employees.

But the union said the offer wasn’t enough.

“The people in the trenches are getting more and more work with less money,” said Carol Makkyla, a clerical worker in the chemistry department who was carrying a strike sign Tuesday.

She predicted the strike could last up to a month, and its consequences could linger. “I don’t think there’s going to be a quick resolution because if AFSCME is successful at this there’s going to be more union organization on campus,” she said.

Carol Carrier, vice president for human resources, said the university has a comprehensive plan to ensure that classes would be taught and essential services would continue.

She said temporary workers could be hired and graduate students would be asked to work more hours to fill in for striking secretarial workers. She said the school has been preparing for four months for the possibility of a strike.

Yohannes Haile, a graduate student at the College of Pharmacy, said Tuesday that he supported the strike. “It’s really going to greatly impact the daily activities of the ‘U.’ At the same time, it is a justified cause,” he said.

“It’s up to the university as to when they are willing to come back to the negotiating table and do some negotiating instead of just saying no,” said Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800. “The strike is going to last as long as it takes for that to happen.”

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