MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Eighteen hundred clerical employees of the University of Minnesota, members of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 3800 at the Minneapolis, Duluth, Morris, and Crookston campuses, went out strike on Oct. 21. Eighty-eight percent of the members voted for the strike when the university refused to back off from its contract proposal that sharply increases the health care payments for university workers.

The university’s contract proposal provides for a wage freeze this year, a 2.5 percent increase next year, but eliminates step increases. Union officials say the university’s proposed increases in health care costs would amount to a 4 to 10 percent cut in real wages and would be a severe hardship for workers with dependents that would not in any way be compensated by the $200 lump-sum payment offered by the university.

According to Local 3800 President Phyllis Walker, “Clerical workers have said loudly, again and again, that they cannot accept the university’s wage package and health care cuts, and our lack of job security in our contract.”

Faculty and student strike support committees have been formed. Some 100 teachers have announced that they will not cross picket lines and have made arrangements to hold their classes off university grounds. The Minnesota AFL-CIO is expected to provide strong solidarity support for the strike, as is the state’s AFL-CIO State Retirees Council.

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks justified the university’s harsh bargaining position by citing the cuts made to its budget by the state Legislature. However, the union, pointing to the excessive growth in salaries and numbers of high-level administrators, maintains that there is a distribution crisis, not a budget crisis. An information sheet issued by the union notes that in the past 14 years the number of administrators have doubled, while the number of clerical workers decreased by 30 percent, and that a 25 percent cut in administrator positions would save more than enough to cover the workers’ heath care needs.

Union members have turned out in big numbers for picket duty at the entrances of the large number of buildings throughout the university grounds. The union has appealed for donations of food for the strikers and their families. The phone number for information of on food needs and other strike support is 612-331-6420.

The author can be reached at marqu002@umn.edu