|“Our priorities are wages, wages, wages,” said Barb Bezat, president of AFSCME Local 3937, speaking to the rally of about 75 AFSCME members and supporters outside Morrill Hall at the University of Minnesota campus. “We’ve fallen behind inflation so badly its time to catch up and keep up,” said Bezat, who has worked 24 years for the University as an assistant library archivist.
“You’ve heard of the inflation rate. This is the inflation rat,” explained Cherrene Horazuk, vice president of AFSCME Local 3800 and a University clerical worker for three years. “It’s been running around with the complicity of the administration. While we face the inflation rat, the administration has voted itself generous increases.”
To illustrate the discrepancy in pay increases, rally-goers lined up to create a human bar graph showing the differences in pay increases for University employees, adjusted for inflation. The lines for top administrators, assistant deans and professors were directed to take many, many steps forward.
“Take five giant steps backward,” the people in the AFSCME line were told.
The point: to illustrate that in the past five years, front line staff have seen wages adjusted for inflation fall almost five percent. At the same time, administrative salaries rose an average of 27 percent and faculty salaries rose 19 percent.
University president Robert Bruininks, meanwhile, received a 73 percent pay increase over the past five years.
A chant rang out: “Raise our wages, come on Bob, I want to quit my second job!”
The University, AFSCME leaders said, clearly has had the resources to increase wages but hasn’t shared those resources with front-line staff.
“The administration can no longer fool us into believing they don’t have the resources,” said Rhonda Jennen, president of AFSCME Local 3260 and for 17 years at dental assistant at the U’s School of Dentistry. “I’ve been here 17 years and I’m still driving a ‘rusty trusty,” she said.
“Do I still have to wonder if I’m going to make ends meet after working here 17 years?” Jennen asked.
“We’re asking for eight percent to catch up, four percent to keep up, and four percent to get ahead,” Jennen said.
“Over the life of our two-year contract, to keep even with inflation, we would need to get 12 percent, said Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME Local 3800.
“Economic progress is your salary increase minus inflation,” she continued. If your salary increase is less than the rate of inflation, “you didn’t get a salary increase, you got a pay cut.”
“The only way we’re going to force the administration to treat us fairly is to stand together and fight together,” Walker said.
Negotiating sessions between the University and the four AFSCME locals were scheduled for today and tomorrow.
“The University’s request for mediation has set the stage for a possible strike during the first week of classes unless a contract agreement is reached before that,” said Jennen. The 45-day required mediation period expires in mid-August.
The four AFSCME locals representing University of Minnesota workers include AFSCME Local 3260 (healthcare workers), AFSCME Local 3800 (clerical workers at the Twin Cities, Morris and Crookston campuses), AFSCME Local 3801 (clerical and technical workers at the Duluth campus), and AFSCME Local 3937 (technical workers at the Twin Cities, Morris and Crookston campuses).