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UMC workers demand fair wage

About 10 University of Minnesota-Crookston clerical and technical workers stood at the school's front entrance Wednesday afternoon with signs demanding fair pay and green T-shirts calling for a living wage.

About 10 University of Minnesota-Crookston clerical and technical workers stood at the school's front entrance Wednesday afternoon with signs demanding fair pay and green T-shirts calling for a living wage.

The picketing workers make up about one-third of the 36 American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union members striking at UMC. Those 36 AFSCME employees make up about 15 percent of UMC's workforce.

Across the University of Minnesota system, about 3,500 AFSCME workers are involved in the dispute about 17 percent of the university's workforce.

The UMC picketers were cheered on throughout the day by honking horns and waving hands, more than 10 of them in one 15-minute period.

"It's a small campus, so we pretty much know everybody," said Angelika Huglen, president of the UMC local. "No one has given us the thumbs down so far."


The picketers arrived at about 7:30 a.m. and planned to stay until 5 p.m., Huglen said. As the strike continues, she said picketers will arrive in shifts but still plan to be visible throughout the school day.

Inside the university, business went on as usual, but with workers reassigned to fill in the gaps, said UMC spokeswoman Krista Lemos.

"We've known about the intent to strike for some time and plans are in place in each unit to deal with whoever was out on strike," Lemos said.

The strikers are prepared to stay on the picket line until negotiators in the Twin Cities reach a compromise, Huglen said, but hope to be back at work within a few days.

"We're all praying it's only three days and we'll be back to the table with a fair contract," she said.

Lemos said the university is also prepared to manage through a long strike by temporarily reassigning employees.

She said only 11 of the 36 AFSCME employees were reported by supervisors as on strike Wednesday, though some of the remaining 25 employees may have been sick, on other forms of leave or not scheduled to work that day.




Final negotiations in the Twin Cities between AFSCME and university officials broke down late last night.

Across the system, university officials said classes went on as usual with few disruptions despite the striking workers.

According to university spokesman Daniel Wolter, about two-thirds of the AFSCME workers showed up for work Wednesday at the campuses in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Crookston, Morris and Rochester. The biggest change involved the bursar's office in the Twin Cities consolidating its operations on the East Bank campus and using drop boxes at its West Bank and St. Paul locations.

"There have been no major disruptions," he said.

However, AFSCME Local 3800 president Phyllis Walker warned the strike will slow things down initially and eventually could bring some departments "to a standstill."

About 600 striking workers showed up for a noon rally outside Morrill Hall on the Twin Cities campus.

"I like my job and I like the university atmosphere," said striker Sarah Wolf. "But just because I like my job doesn't mean I should be compensated less than any other state worker."


An unexpected visitor attended the Twin Cities rally: Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of presidential candidate John Edwards. She told KSTP-TV that if the university respected the workers, it would give them the cost-of-living increase they are seeking.

"This is just to keep up with inflation, for Pete's sake," she said. "They're not asking for the moon."

Meanwhile in Duluth, a rally was held at the College Street entrance to the campus, where about 100 workers picketed.

"We strongly support you ... we miss you already, but we know you're doing what you have to do," said Melanie Shepard, president of the University Education Association, which represents the faculty. "Don't let them think we can do the job without you because we can't. The university has really lost track of basic Minnesota values."

On the Morris campus, about 30 of the 74 union members who work on campus took to the picket line, though others came to work or stayed home.

The employees involved in the strike fix computers, distribute paychecks, work as assistants for dentists and veterinarians, and perform many other jobs. School officials said they had contingency plans to keep the campuses running, with students or temporary workers filling in where necessary.

The university concedes that the strike could limit the number of non-emergency services provided on the Twin Cities campus by Boynton Health Service, the Community-University Health Care Center, the university's dental clinic and its veterinary clinic.

No appointments had to be canceled or rescheduled at the health or dental clinics Wednesday, Wolter said. He said service at the veterinary clinic was reduced to emergency and critical care in anticipation of the strike.


The two sides are disputing the amount of wage increases included in the administration's latest contract proposal involves.

According to AFSCME, the proposal offers raises of 2.25 percent per year for clerical and technical workers and 2.5 percent for health care workers, raises the union says wouldn't cover inflation.

The university says the increases are actually higher because they include step increases for years of service. Looking at the wages that way, administrators argue, the offer would provide 94 percent of AFSCME employees with at least a 4.5 percent pay increase each year.

Herald Staff Writer Joseph Marks contributed to this report. Reach him at (701) 780-1105, (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or jmarks@gfherald.com .

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