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U of M Clerical Workers Raise the Floor on Wages!

By J Burger

Minneapolis, MN – University of Minnesota workers have won some real victories, and look forward to winning more.

Last fall, workers at the University of Minnesota won a battle to raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour. It is the highest minimum wage at any university in the country. Over 400 people were brought up to $12 per hour, while hundreds more learned that by standing together, workers can improve their collective situation.

This concession from the employer was not won at the negotiating table, but through a livable wage campaign, that had been going on for the previous two years.

“We had people that have worked at the university for 15 years and were being paid less than $12 per hour. It was unacceptable,” said Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800.

“We realized that our people were slipping behind, just like workers throughout this country. We had to set out to get our wages to a place where our members could afford to live,” Walker added.

Before the actual negotiations, the union and its allies on campus and in the community constantly exposed the situation that clerical workers faced. Tactics included an analysis of the wages, polling of the membership and building alliances with other unions and employee groups. Union members were drawn into the battle of winning a better contract by mobilizing and talking to co-workers in the workplace.

Livable wage campaigns have been waged in cities throughout the country, including here in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

“We learned from other union and community struggles to raise wages, and we incorporated those lessons into our fight,” Walker said.

This effort by the union puts one of the largest employers in all of Minnesota closer to paying its workers a livable wage.

Also last fall, the University of Minnesota Board of Regents raised the President's salary by $50,000 a year. This 22% raise for the president impressed few and outraged many. The union took this and said “We deserve a 22% raise.” When the public hearings around the budget took place, union members turned out to demand their 22%.

In negotiations the union was unable to stop the employers' demand for health benefit givebacks. The University now administers the healthcare plan for its employees. Previously, health benefits were negotiated with the state of Minnesota workers. Holding the costs down for co-pays and other costs will be a task for the union in the future.

“We are stepping up to defend our contract. The employer thinks that they can just walk all over our contract and get away with it. We're not going to let this happen.” Walker said

The local is starting its livable wage campaign again. Their slogan, “We raised the floor, now we need to raise the roof,” will be the vehicle to struggle for significant wage increases for long-term employees. They also hope to strengthen the contract language to include stronger seniority and job protections the next contract round.

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