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University of Minnesota on strike
University of Minnesota on strike
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Union ready for the long haul
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Picketers at the U of M campus in Minneapolis Tuesday. (MPR Photo/Dan Olson)
Members of the University of Minnesota's clerical union are off the job and on the picket lines again Wednesday, in the second day of a strike over wages and health care costs. Leadership for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 says members will stay on strike until the university comes up with a better offer. University officials say the 15 percent cut to its state appropriation last session means their best offer is already on the table.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Each of the University of Minnesota campuses in the Twin Cities, Crookston, Morris and Duluth saw at least some picketing.

On the Minneapolis campus, AFSCME workers picketed in clumps at 12 different locations. As about 30 of them lined a pathway near Northrup Auditorium, most students walked by without much reaction.

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Image Strikers at UMD

For Vice President of Human Resources Carol Carrier, it's an example of how the university managed its business as usual, despite the strike.

"We have some picketers outside our doors and so on, but our business has gone on. For the most part, our classes have remained scheduled, and taught where they are to be scheduled and taught," said Carrier.

Some classes took place off campus, but Carrier said she did not have precise numbers on how many. She said the university has asked faculty members to follow guidelines if they hold classes off campus.

"We've asked them to keep the convenience and safety of students uppermost in their minds," Carrier said. "Remember, our students are paying a lot of money here for tuition and fees. We want to make sure that they get great service, even when we might have a strike going on."

The union and university disputed the facts and realities of the strike during its first day, starting with numbers. For instance, both sides had different takes on how many union workers walked the picket lines.

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Image Toby Greenwald

The university's Carol Carrier says 55 percent of AFSCME workers across the university system stayed on the job. But union president Phyllis Walker said over half the AFSCME local members left their offices and joined the picket lines.

"Thousands of people are picketing, and hundreds more stayed home. The roofers union honored picket lines and shut down the reroofing project," Walker said. "Construction work at the legal clinic in the law school was halted. Deliveries to the university are being affected. The union has picketed loading docks, and many drivers are honoring our picket line."

Walker says the union rejected the university's two-year contract offer because it includes a wage freeze in the first year, and a 2.5 percent salary increase in the second year. The offer also passes on increased health care costs to workers.

The amount of union participation in the strike varied at campuses outside the Twin Cities. Reports show about 20 of the 63 AFSCME workers walked the picket lines at the Morris campus. In Crookston, two out of 21 people picketed. And in Duluth, about 150 out of 200 people walked off the job.

Students, faculty and staff picked up extra responsibiliites to make up for those workers who did not show up.

Student Marty Andrade is an officer of the Minnesota Student Association based on the Minneapolis campus. He says the MSA has not taken a position on the strike. The the biggest effect on students so far, he says, is having to decide whether to cross the picket lines.

"A lot of people on this campus are supporting the workers. And it's tough on them to cross the picket line and say, 'Hey, I have to go to school,'" says Andrade. "Beyond that, it's just making sure that things get done. We have the paperwork to get done. You know, they're clerical workers. You're putting extra work on student employees and other employees."

Union officials say membership is prepared to continue the strike until the university offers a better wage and health benefits package. University officials say there is no extra money to bring to the table. They say the best they can do is what they've already proposed.

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