Union negotiators returned to the table last month to continue negotiations with the University in the hopes of negotiating a new contract that takes into account the various impacts of COVID-19 on employees and creates a more equitable workplace. .
The two sides met frequently during one-day sessions to negotiate the demands. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) represents office workers and some healthcare workers at the University as they negotiate a new two-year contract.
In an effort to encourage negotiations to continue at a faster pace, union leaders protested at the Oct. 7 board meeting. They also held a rally outside the Coffman Memorial Union on September 22.
“The University has been, I would say, a bit slow this time around and not as prepared every session for meetings,” said Cherrene Horazuk, president of AFSCME 3800. “But it’s not uncommon for us to negotiate until the fall. “
Flexibility of working arrangements
One of the demands of union workers is greater flexibility to work remotely and in person. AFSCME is pushing the University to create objective guidelines for work arrangements based on job descriptions and tasks, Horazuk said.
“The decision was made in June of this year by my manager to force all of us to be back on site 100% full time no matter what we were doing, especially on the basis that we are office workers rather … than on [the] basis of our work, ”said Jack Smith, office worker at Research Animal Resources.
Smith said that even though he and his colleagues had to return to the office, his manager was able to continue working from home. He said he knows workers in other departments with similar situations.
Some workers who have to return to the office worry about the effect it might have on their health and the health of others around them.
Rachel Katkar, an administrative assistant at the School of Dentistry who works in the office three days a week, said her child could not yet be vaccinated and had other health problems.
“What we do in our private lives really comes to the fore… so there are really a lot more risks for some people,” Katkar said. “It’s something that concerns me all the time, being as careful as possible, but there is always a risk in going in.
Ultimately, departments and individual supervisors have a high degree of authority to make decisions and determine working arrangements, so some departments offer more flexibility than others, Horazuk said.
Compensation of essential workers and response to the pandemic
Another demand that union workers are pushing throughout the negotiations concerns the University’s essential health workers, their working conditions and their pay throughout the pandemic.
Deb Pavlica, president of AFSCME Healthcare 3260, said she did not believe the university’s vaccine attestation policy was an effective measure to guard against the increase in COVID-19 variants among faculty and students, and that there was also not sufficient mitigation from students going to gatherings and bringing the virus back to campus. As students continue to fall ill, it creates more work and possible dangers for University healthcare workers.
AFSCME has proposed to the University to create more comprehensive vaccine and testing requirements, Horazuk said. They asked the University to send test reminders to staff and faculty who refused to respond if they were vaccinated on the attestation form. The University rejected the request saying that some people who refused could be vaccinated.
“We believe they are more interested in protecting themselves from legal liability than in providing a safe and healthy environment,” said Horazuk.
Additionally, essential workers want a pay rise that equates to the extra work they have done and continue to do throughout the pandemic, Pavlica said. At the start of the pandemic, workers received an additional $ 2 per hour, but that ended in June 2020.
“You keep pushing us more and more to the point where people have quit… and we can’t find people to come in,” Pavlica said. ” We are tired. The front line is so tired.
The University is currently offering a 1.5% salary increase as part of the contract being negotiated. This increase is not enough to cope with inflation and rising energy costs, Sande said.
“For some of our workers who are among the lowest paid employees at the University of Minnesota, this is less than 25 or 20 cents an hour,” Andrea Sande, president of AFSCME 3801 told the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Now unionized workers are asking for a general increase of 75 cents an hour.
Significant increases would recognize the work of office workers throughout the pandemic, many of whom are typically women and people of color, Sande said.
Improve fairness in the workplace
Another topic unionized workers are currently negotiating is about improving social and racial equity in the workplace, said Sarah Vast, office worker at the College of Education and Human Development and secretary of AFSCME 3800.
Some of these requests relate to accessibility for transgender and gender non-conforming workers. For example, Vast, who is not gender-compliant, said they had to walk through three buildings on campus to access a safe and comfortable washroom for them.
The AFSCME also has proposals around recruitment practices. Although many college jobs do not require a four-year degree, often only applicants with a degree are hired.
It’s important to think about what jobs truly constitute the entry level and keep in mind the historically marginalized groups surrounding the college community who may apply for jobs, Vast said.
“[It’s important] get the University to think about how it recruits, trains, supports, develops and retains a truly diverse workforce, ”said Vast.
AFSCME and the University started negotiating these contract requests, which consist of around 70 proposals, in June. The next negotiating session is scheduled for October 12. So far, the university has failed to move forward on many of the union’s top priorities, prompting members to mobilize more workers to move negotiations forward, Horazuk said.
“We know that when the University hears that buzz, that’s what moves them,” Horazuk said. “We are negotiating not just for ourselves, but for the thousands of frontline workers at the University who deserve raises and respect.