For the last eight months, Teamsters Local 320 has been negotiating with the University of Minnesota over their latest contract. On Tuesday, January 23rd Teamster representatives announced that members had ratified the contract proposal, averting a possible strike during the Super Bowl.
Teamsters represent approximately 1,500 workers including custodians, lab animal attendants in research sciences, HVAC mechanics, food-service workers, among others. The ratified contract was acknowledging as being divisive. For example., the 2% increase did not apply to less senior employees. In less than a year Teamsters and the University of Minnesota will likely begin a new round of bargaining. Teamsters Local 320 Secretary-Treasurer and principal officer Brian Aldes explained that in upcoming negotiations they would look to balance inequities in the contract.
Nasser Nur, Senior Building and Grounds worker and negotiating team member has been an employee at the U for over nine years. In responding to the divisive tactics of the University he responded, “they did not divide us, we are still strong.” Despite the palpable frustration gains were made including an enhanced leave policy. Nur explained that the new policy would have a significant impact on East African employees. In the past sick leave was only two weeks. If workers were gone longer, they risked losing their jobs. A 6-week leave policy allows East African workers to spend more time maintaining familial connections.
A tentative agreement was reached on January 9th, setting the stage for Tuesday’’s vote count. Members voted by mail ballot over the last several weeks. The voting was not without controversy.
In an Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) charge filed on Thursday, January 18, 2018, Teamsters allege that the University, “overstepped the bounds of good faith bargaining as it interferes with the Union’s contract vote and circumvents the collective bargaining process.” Allegations of interference refer to an email sent by Director of Employee Relations Patti Dion explaining the University position on the contract vote. According to the union, “Teamsters Local 320 and the negotiations committee firmly believes that each Teamster member at the University must vote on the employer’s final offer without any inference from management. The University’s communication is misleading and unfortunate.”
In total, the University and the union negotiated over eight months with the assistance of facilitated mediation from the state for 7 of those months. Protracted negotiations between Teamsters and the University of Minnesota reflect a sometimes tense relationship as union officials regularly file grievances against the University. As a response to the frustrating negotiation process union members authorized a strike by an 85% margin on November 2, 2017. Had the contract not been ratified on Tuesday a strike would have been scheduled for this coming Friday, January 26th. The strike would have coincided with University preparations for Super Bowl 52, potentially complicating logistics.