In the Spotlight

News & Features
More from MPR
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Both sides in strike play the numbers game
Larger view
U of M students staged a Greek tragedy-style play on the Minneapolis campus Thursday in support of striking clerical workers. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
The third day of the strike by University of Minnesota clerical workers passed with no sign of movement from either side to break the impasse. No talks have been scheduled since the negotiations broke off Monday evening. Since the strike began the two sides have disagreed about how many workers have taken to the picket lines. The university says nearly 60 percent of the 1,900 workers covered by the clerical contract have shown up for work. Union leaders say the number is half that.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Michael Teachout works as an administrator at the Carlson School of Management on the Minneapolis campus.

Teachout is covered by the AFSCME clerical union contract. But he can be counted as one of those not on the picket lines. He's in his cubicle working.

"I feel comfortable crossing the line. Because I didn't have a say so, I feel that my job is here," he says.

Teachout receives AFSCME contract benefits under the fair share provision of the deal. That means he pays less than a full member and cannot vote. Between 30 and 40 percent of the U's 1,900 AFSCME workers are not full voting members.

Larger view
Image He's at work

Teachout says since he's not allowed to vote, he does not feel he's bound to strike with the rest of the union. He says while he is worried about his contract, he's only interested in being a fair share member.

"A number of us have concerns with the contract. It will be a loss in pay, with the (higher premiums for) medical benefits," says Teachout. "But I also know the economy is not doing that well. The university's lost a large amount of its funding. And that it will be hard the next two years. And I feel we should wait until the economy gets better to really ask the university to step up its offer to the union."

Union leadership says it's precisely because the economy is not in good shape that the lowest paid workers are hit hardest and have the greatest need for a fair contract.

University clerical workers make an average of $30,000 per year. The university's contract offer includes a wage freeze in the first year of the contract and an increase of 2.5 percent in the second year. Employee health costs go up in the proposal, including premiums, copays and office visits.

Larger view
Image He's on strike

Hunmphrey Institute worker and voting AFSCME member Steven Schaus is walking the picket line outside the Carlson School of Management. Normally he'd be assisting student advisors. University officials say tasks that Schaus would typically do have been picked up by those who have crossed the picket line, or by professors, administrators and others. Schaus says it's a better deal for the university to have him do the work.

Schaus says he's striking primarily because of the wage and benefits package. He says his salary is too low to absorb the increases in health care costs.

"It's extremely difficult to take care of a disabled person and provide a good health care system for them. My health care costs were going to go up by between $1,500 and $2,000 this year, and my take-home salary is about $24,000 after taxes. I was looking at an incredibly significant cut in pay due to the increased costs," says Schaus.

For the third day, the university released numbers as to how many clerical workers are not participating in the strike. It's 59 percent. The union says, by its count, 70 percent of union members are on strike.

Union leaders say it's up to the university to make the next move. The university says its best offer is on the table.

University officials say the entire university community must share the pain of a 15 percent cut to the university's biennial budget.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects