Major Paper Lets Union Have Its Say—Briefly
Leader of Striking Workers at U of Minnesota
Gives Union’s View in “Minneapolis Star Tribune”
Gladys McKenzie: For U clerical workers, this strike was the only choice
Gladys McKenzie is chief negotiator for the 1,900 U. of Minnesota workers now on strike, members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Clerical Workers, Locals 3800 and 3801.
The strike by clerical workers at the University of Minnesota is resonating strongly among working people and others in this state who watch with increasing frustration and anger as they are forced to pay more and more for health care costs.
The resolve and courage of these AFSCME members, 93 percent women, who have struck—and struck back—against the mounting health care crisis has triggered a torrent of enthusiasm. Anyone who has visited our picket lines on the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses has witnessed a joyous cacophony of honking horns and shouts of encouragement from university workers, students, faculty, and the general public traveling through and about the campuses.
Central to our campaign against the inequity of the U’s health care proposals has been our insistence that this is a distribution crisis, not a budget crisis. We do not believe the U’s poormouthing at the negotiating table is motivated by necessity. From where we sit, it looks more like class bias.
More than 60 university administrators receive six-figure salaries exceeding that of the governor of Minnesota. The U’s fundraising arm just rolled up a hefty $1.6 billion in its recent capital campaign, more than any public university but one. But, as University of Minnesota Foundation President Gerald Fischer said last month, this money is not for “humdrum clerks or janitors.” No kidding.
We took on this fight not because this is a “good time” to go on strike, but because we had no choice. Clerical workers at the University of Minnesota are already on the bottom of the economic ladder, and the U’s unfair and onerous demands for even more givebacks and concessions will knock us off even that.
If the university succeeds in imposing its health care proposal, it only ensures worse problems next time around. Younger and healthier workers, faced with making a choice between health care premiums and rent, food, day care, and other unpostponable expenses, will simply opt out of the insurance program and gamble on continuing good health, while shrinking premiums will be drawn on to cover the increased needs of those who are left.
It would be irresponsible for us to endorse this shortsighted and unrealistic recipe that simply amounts to a guarantee that even greater health care contributions will be demanded from clerical workers in two years. And, make no mistake about it, this is what the university placed on the table at the beginning of negotiations and has refused to budge from since.
The outcome of this strike will not be determined by a daily scorecard of those who may be driven by necessity to report for work, but, as in all labor struggles, by the heart and soul of those motivated by a thirst for justice and strengthened by human solidarity. I believe the clerical workers at the University of Minnesota are meeting that challenge.