US: 1,900 striking clerical workers at the University of Minnesota

On October 22 clerical workers at the University of Minnesota walked away from their desks and onto picket lines demanding a fair contract.

AFSCME 3800 represents 1,900 clericals, 93% women, and the lowest paid workers at the University. The U of MN administration has refused to budge, demanding the workers accept a wage freeze, a significant increase in health care costs, sick leave and overtime take-backs, the elimination of step increases, and no agreement on job security.

70 students occupied the president’s office

After a week, President Bruininks and his negotiating team have refused to budge. Meanwhile student solidarity (and outrage) has been growing. On the morning of 29 October 17 students sat down in the President’s office to demand a meeting. By 12:30 pm our numbers had swelled to 70, and three top administrators quickly agreed to give us an audience. While entertaining, this meeting produced no important results, and so students have vowed to continue the sit-in, taking shifts in front of Bruininks office, until a just offer is made to the strikers. No arrests have been made yet.

Professors, TAs, and the broader community have also shown amazing support. 161 classes involving over 4000 students have been held off campus, where local establishments have donated space. Food donations overflow the strike headquarters. The strike hardship fund is growing fast.

All across the country, education is under attack — budgets for schools are being cut as tax breaks are being given out to the rich and money pours into the military. But students and workers are standing together united, demanding better priorities for our country!

While President Bruininks asks the University’s poorest workers to make a huge economic sacrifice and asks students to accept big massive tuition increases, the University’s latest capital campaign raised $1.66 billion and the number of University administrators making $100,000 a year or more has risen from 311 in 1994 to 1,075 in 2003!

Sixty administrators make more than the Governor of Minnesota — Bruininks himself gets $350,000 plus a free mansion — and the University attacks clerical workers and hikes tuition! That’s Enron economics, pure and simple. It’s not a budget with the right priorities.

The strike has received tremendous local and national support, but Bruininks is digging in his heals. The strike is entering a critical period, and the pressure needs to rise fast if they are to win. If you care about education and workers rights, here’s what you can do:

We are asking you to:

  • Send your solidarity letter of support to the workers on strike via tymoore77@yahoo.com.
  • Send U of MN President Bruininks a letter at upres@umn.edu.

Sample letter

Dear Robert Bruininks,

I am writing to ask that you resolve the current strike by AFSCME Local 3800 by offering the hard-working clerical workers of the University the decent contract that they demand.

A wage freeze, a significant increase in health care costs, sick leave and overtime take-backs, the elimination of step increases, and no agreement on job security are NOT elements of a decent contract. While the University spends millions on bus shelters and sports stadiums, you are asking real families to make real sacrifices and refusing to make their health a priority.

These workers care a great deal about the University and have worked hard for years to help it function; you must not repay them with these attacks. Please end the strike by giving these workers the contract they deserve.

As a labour/student activist, I will be watching this situation closely and will make sure that fellow union members, my work colleagues, friends and family are informed.

Sincerely, [Your Name]

Email to upres@umn.edu

Or have a letter automatically sent in your name by going to the following website of Students Against Sweatshops (USAS): http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/minnesotastrike

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