Negotiations Updates 2019-2021

Negotiations Update #1: June 24 & 25, 2019

Our U of M AFSCME Bargaining Committee, representing clerical, technical, and healthcare workers throughout the University system began formal contract negotiations with the U of M administration last week. We started bargaining unified and strong with a joint committee of all four AFSCME locals.

In every round of contract negotiations, our union works to strengthen our contract and improve working conditions for frontline staff at the U. We build on the gains that workers who came before us made, and fight for a better future for the workers who will come after us.

Our union presented proposals that are based on the priorities our members gave us in bargaining surveys and first hand consultation. These include a fair and equitable wage increase, pay equity between LPNs and CMAs, strengthening job security and leave protections including bereavement leave, advancing racial and gender equity at the U, mitigating the impact of climate change, restoring the regents scholarship, and fixing the broken wage step system for clericals and technicals, which the U committed to do in 2009 but has refused to move on since. We know that frontline workers need to make real economic progress. Our jobs deserve respect and we deserve to be paid wages that allow us to commit to a career at the U, raise our families and retire with dignity.
We haven't discussed specific wage proposals yet. Management was not prepared to talk finances yet, even though the contract expired on June 30. 

We are hopeful that a new University president and new additions to the Board of Regents will give a positive and productive mandate to the management bargaining committee. Our first day of bargaining was cordial, but the true test of the administration's respect will be when we get financial proposals. 

We set a calendar of negotiations dates throughout July and August. Our clerical committee returns to the table on July 11.

Check out the video update on our first day of bargaining. Please see links below for copies of our union and management's opening proposals. 

When will clerical workers get raises?

AFSCME members receive two types of salary increases: an automatic step increase and the negotiated across-the-board increase. The step increase for clerical workers is a 2% increase that is received automatically on your anniversary date until you reach the top of the pay scale. The intention of the step increase is to recognize and reward workers for the increased skills and ability you develop each year on the job. Steps are contractually guaranteed and will continue to be paid while negotiations take place. If you do not receive your step on your anniversary date, please let us know.

Unionized workers negotiate the amount of our across-the-board raises (or general increase), rather than having raises determined and imposed from above (which is what happens with faculty, P&A and Civil Service staff). The upside of this is that we can and do push for more than what is merely budgeted. The challenge is that the U generally won't even talk about wages until the state allocation has been determined and the budget has been ratified by the Board of Regents (which takes place in June). Negotiations began last week, but we didn’t receive the University’s opening wage proposal. We are scheduled to return to the table on July 11 and will likely get the University's opening wage proposal then. We have bargaining dates scheduled through August. Contract negotiations have typically culminated in late September or October.

We will receive our general (or across-the-board) wage increases once our new contract has been fully negotiated and voted on by our membership. Raises will be retroactive to the beginning date of the contract. Once the contract has been agreed upon by our members and the Board of Regents, people will receive back-pay for the salary increases from the contract expiration date.

Negotiations Update #2: July 11, 2019

On July 11, our U of M AFSCME negotiating committee had our second round of bargaining with University management. This session was just focused on our clerical contract.

Our union committee offered a number of proposals that ensure that front line staff are treated with dignity and respect. The University rejected 30 of 34 proposals, citing the need for “flexibility for departments”. 

Regarding wages, our AFSCME committee proposed 5% across the board in the first year and 5% across the board in the second year. We will also be bringing a comprehensive pay equity proposal and proposal to reduce the number of salary steps to our next meeting. For the past 10 years the University has refused to implement an agreement to move people to the top of the pay scale sooner. The University proposed 1.25% in the first year and 1% in the second year and eliminating the bottom two steps if there are no people on those steps. They have proposed nothing regarding moving the top up.  

The University likes to talk about equity and diversity, but when it comes down to it, their words are nothing but empty promises. Unionized workers are the most diverse grouping of staff at the U. We deserve to make real economic progress. The University needs to put their money where their mouth is. They need to give real wage increases and fix our step system so people move up in the wage scales faster and so that the top wages are higher.

In yet another example of their utter disregard for the well-being of the front line staff, earlier this week, the University proposed to eliminate the health insurance premium relief program which was set up to help low income workers afford University health insurance. Eliminating the premium relief program amounts to a wage cut for the lowest paid workers at the U and is absolutely unacceptable. 

Our next negotiations are scheduled for July 30. We are asking everybody to support your coworkers and our union by wearing green on Fridays. 

Negotiations Update #3: July 30, 2019

On July 30th, all 3 AFSCME represented units met with the University management to negotiate our contracts’ joint proposals.

Unfortunately there was no movement by management on wages. Clericals and techs have proposed 5% raises each year of the contract. While HC is waiting on data which has not been provided before offering a wage proposal. The U responded with the following: Techs 2% the first year and 1.75% the second, Clericals 1.25% and 1% the second, HC 1% the first year and .75% the second. 

Where did they come up with these numbers? They refused to answer, referring to a wage formula that they refused to share despite acknowledging that it was not actually confidential. 

Meanwhile, the union has submitted over 30 information requests. We have yet to receive a response on these despite the fact that they were submitted over a month ago. In addition, our ten joint proposals were rejected with little explanation. Their strategy is to delay, deny, and disrespect our union. 

There are a number of things you can do to send University management a message that this is unacceptable. For example, attend one of our upcoming ice cream socials and most importantly join our union and get involved!

Negotiations Update #4: August 12, 2019

Our clerical bargaining committee returned to the table on Monday, August 12.

We began the day by modifying our proposal on workplace bullying to mirror the harassment prohibition language in the faculty union contract for Duluth and Crookston faculty. It addresses both sexual and non-sexual harassment and states that the employer and union agree that all employees are entitled to freedom from harassment. 

Management’s response was outrageous and insulting. They said that the issue with that language is that there is a difference between clerical workers and faculty in that most harassment for faculty is peer to peer. They said they don’t want the policy to become the reason for clerical workers with work performance issues to bog us down in the grievance process.  They are concerned that we will file grievances against supervisors who are carrying out performance management. We reiterated that our concern is holding bullying and harassing supervisors accountable. They only seem interested in addressing peer to peer harassment (ie holding frontline staff accountable) and not addressing supervisor to employee harassment. Clearly they are interested in protecting bullying supervisors at any costs while sweeping aside the rights of clerical workers to come to work each day without facing bullying. This is a gross misplacement of priorities and shows clear disrespect for clerical workers.

We also presented a comprehensive proposal to address the impact of climate change, proposing all-employee group campus green committees to develop climate mitigation proposals. We also proposed that, in order to encourage environmentally-friendly mass transit, the University shall fully reimburse bus passes, bike share or scooter passes, and reimburse parking for employees who carpool and rideshare. Finally, we proposed parameters for emergency weather closures, the ability to work from home in extreme cold or to receive time and a half pay when required to work when classes are canceled due to weather.

Meanwhile, our other proposals were met with rejection and little discussion.

We return to bargaining on August 26. We will be presenting a detailed proposal to increase the top of the pay scale and reduce the number of steps to get there. We have been pushing for so-called step compression for 9 years. We are #DoneWaiting for movement from the U. 

Please sign our petition in support of our bargaining demands and remember to wear your AFSCME green shirt on Fridays.

Negotiations Update #5: August 26, 2019

Our unified AFSCME bargaining committee returned to negotiations with the University management committee on Monday, August 26.

 It was the University’s turn to present, and the first thing that they did was insult us and attempt to divide our membership by taking retro pay off the table. In numerous Labor Management meetings this spring, the University reiterated that they would not be able to discuss any financial issues until after the Board of Regents passed a budget in mid-June and that there wasn’t a need to sit down to bargain before then. Now they are saying that 1) bargaining is taking too long; 2) that it is too complicated for payroll staff to calculate retro pay; and 3) that the compensation instructions for Civil Service (who are not unionized and who do not collectively bargain) provide the guidelines for our wage increases. We categorically rejected their posturing. We know that their budget parameters are for the entire fiscal year, so refusing retro pay is taking money out of worker’s paychecks. We also know that the staff who enter payroll are AFSCME members who are incredibly skilled at their jobs and are more than capable of doing their jobs. The University wouldn’t discuss finances until days before the contract expired, so retro pay was always going to be an issue. The management committee also made clear by their comments that retro pay would likely be back on the table as a bargaining chip at the end of negotiations. Their maneuvering was insulting to all the frontline staff who work hard every day to make this University work and who deserve real raises.

We also told the University in no uncertain terms that we have been waiting for 10 years for the University to make good on their commitment to reduce the number of steps it takes to get to the top of the wage scale. We are Done Waiting. The time is now to address our wage scales.

In addition to wages, we had planned on discussing health insurance. However, we were told that Ken Horstman, Director of Employee Benefits, would not be joining us. The University is attempting to increase our rates by 11% and is planning to get rid of the premium relief program, which benefits lower wage workers at the U (most of whom are unionized staff). They have been unwilling to discuss our health proposals, and we are demanding that Ken Horstman meet with us to bargain health insurance.

Another top priority for our members is our proposal for bereavement leave that is a set aside and does not require using sick or vacation. P&A employees do have bereavement leave separate from sick and vacation. Our demand is for unionized staff (and Civil Service) to have the same separate leave. The U gave us their convoluted position that P&A have a different type of sick and vacation policy due to being salaried employees, and so really, we all have similar bereavement leave. We asked them if there would ever be an instance in which a P&A employee would be forced to take time off without pay to attend a family member’s funeral. They said no - there is always a minimum amount of paid bereavement leave. We pointed out that for unionized staff, if you have used all your sick and vacation to care for a loved one who dies, you would have to take time off without pay to grieve. This is inequitable and unacceptable. The ability to mourn our loved ones is just as important for us as it is for P&A staff.

The University finally agreed to our non-binary language proposal to replace he or she in the contract with “they”. For two months, the U has held to a position that he or she should be replaced with the term “the employee”, while we maintained that we are human beings with identities beyond “the employee”. Not to mention the awkward reading of directly substituting he or she with “the employee” in most sentences. Today, they finally conceded our point and agreed to our proposal. Meanwhile, our other proposals were met with rejection and little

Our locals have developed in-depth proposals to increase the top of the pay scale and reduce the number of steps to get there. We have been pushing for so-called step compression for 10 years. We are #DoneWaiting for movement from the U. Frontline staff deserve real raises and we are #FightingForOurFuture in bargaining.

Negotiations Update #6: September 11, 2019

The university has problems, however, our Union has solutions.

We have brought forth proposals in negotiations to address these problems, however no progress is being made, because:

  • Over the course of this negotiation process we have received rejection after rejection on our committee’s researched and thorough proposals.
  • The few proposals put forth by management have egregiously (grossly) failed to address the issues and often they pit unionized workers against each other (robbing Patricia to pay Paul).
  • The Board of Regents agreed 10 years ago to shorten the path the top of the pay scale. They refuse to honor their word leaving us with an empty promise for a decade.
Due to the booming economy, clerical workers are being hired in at the middle of the pay scale, causing inequities between long term and newer employees. We proposed a review committee to address these internal inequities across the University. We also proposed to raise the top of the pay scale and take no more than 15 steps to get there, rather than an entire career like it currently takes. The university, on the other hand, proposes dropping only the bottom 2 steps while proposes freezing steps for two years for all clerical workers.
In order to make progress at the table, the Board of Regents needs to empower management negotiators to bargain in good faith with us. Our Union wants to find common ground and our goal is to Drive management to Discover that they can create a better workplace for all workers. Clerical workers are a largely invisible workforce that does the work behind the scenes that makes the university run. We refuse the be silent or invisible while we are fighting for our future. Join us on Friday, September 20th, as we line the Scholars Walk in a sea of green shirt solidarity.
#FightingForOurFuture #RaisesAndRespect #DoneWaiting

Negotiations Update #7: October 14, 2019

All three AFSCME units, clerical, technical and healthcare – met on October 9 for another day of negotiations. It was not a productive day at all. The University told us they were looking for financial wiggle room, but the bottom line is that they continue to be unwilling to put additional money on the table to address our financial needs. Outgoing President Kaler told union leaders last month that “there’s just not enough money to go around.” His administration continually found money for those at the top at the expense of low paid frontline staff. We expected this attitude to change with a new president, but unfortunately, the University’s proposals today remain a game of robbing Peter to pay Paula where we are supposed to move money from one group of members to another. Our union bargaining team has clearly articulated our  priorities, however, and that means putting more money on the table for all of our members. 

President Gabel has been lauded for making a career of collaborative leadership and for breaking the glass ceiling, becoming the first female president in the 150+ year history of the U.

At the same time clerical, technical, and healthcare workers are predominantly women. We are looking to President Gabel to ensure that we are not left behind in the policies and working conditions we face every day in our jobs. 

Here are the solutions AFSCME is fighting for:

  • Reasonable across the board increases to keep up with rising costs like rent and groceries.
  • Raising the top of the pay scale so our longevity and commitment to the U is recognized – not lump sums that don’t add to our base salaries. Creating a faster path to the top of the pay scale to retain employees and institutional knowledge that is critical to the U and to the students who learn here.
  • No increase to our healthcare costs. We deserve affordable healthcare!
  • The U needs to be a positive partner in combating climate change.
  • Standing against workplace bullying and ensuring that gender nonbinary and transgender coworkers have safe and respectful workplaces.
  • Full retro pay to make us whole for the raises we have missed due to the U refusing to discuss economic proposals until our contract had already expired.

We are in the longest economic boom in US history – we deserve to make real economic progress. We call on the University to live up to its guiding principles and respect the contributions of frontline staff. 

Show support for your coworkers and our bargaining committee by wearing AFSCME green every Friday. Join us at a rally on Tuesday, October 22 at noon in front of Morrill Hall to tell the administration that AFSCME workers are done waiting! It’s time for the contract we deserve!

Negotiations Update #8: October 30, 2019

Today was a day of highs and lows. We were joined at the bargaining table by over 50 members from all of our locals, including members from the Rochester, Morris, and Duluth campuses who joined via videoconference. 

We continue to be inspired by our members’ determination to win a fair contract that respects frontline workers and gives us raises that allow us to move ahead.  Following the rally that we held last week, the university made a significant move in year two. They put 2.25% on the table plus steps. This is following years of the U reducing the across the board increase by saying steps cost them. 

However, they were unwilling to find additional money in year one and refused to put money toward the economic needs of long term workers. For clerical and technical workers, the U won’t increase the top of the range or grant equity adjustments for those members that are stuck at the top of the pay scale or for long term employees who sacrificed repeatedly in times of economic downturns, but have only been able to break even when the economy improved. For healthcare workers, the U’s proposal is slightly better -  giving lump sums of $400 for workers with 15 years of seniority, and adding steps at the top, but it does not go far enough. It is clear that we need to continue to apply pressure on the university to get them to do the right thing and respect long-term workers. 

After 10 years, the U has finally made movement to reducing the number of steps, thanks to the ceaseless efforts of members over the past decade, those who have signed petitions, worn AFSCME green and attended rallies. The proposals are different for each bargaining unit, so please see the written proposals for details or talk to a member of your bargaining team.

We have repeatedly told the University that they need to address our 4 economic priorities: 

  1. Across the board increases without steps costed in and with retro pay. 
  2. Reduce the number of steps per the 2009 MOU
  3. Internal equity adjustments for long term employees.
  4. Increase the top of the ranges. 

Due to pressure by members and supporters, the U has moved on 2 of our priorities. We need to turn up the heat to get the University to address the needs of long-term workers and those at the top of the pay scale. Wear your AFSCME green shirt on Fridays, sign our petition, and if you are not a member, join our union and join the fight for our future!