University of Minnesota service workers vote to strike

By an overwhelming margin, Teamsters Local 320 members at all five campuses agreed to the action. Union leaders plan to file notice with the state and university.

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MINNEAPOLIS — About 1,500 workers at the five University of Minnesota campuses are set to strike later this month.

Members of Teamsters Local 320, which represents custodians, cooks, mechanics, groundskeepers and other staff, voted by a 93% margin to authorize a strike. Union workers counted the votes and announced their result Monday.

They’ll file the proper paperwork with Minnesota’s Bureau of Mediation Services and formally notify the university Tuesday, which begins a 10-day, state-mandated “cooling-off period.” After that, a strike could begin.

“We’re not excited that we’re at this point in our bargaining,” Brian Aldes, the local’s secretary treasurer and principal officer, told reporters Monday afternoon . “We’ve always approached our bargaining with the intent of reaching a mutual agreement that meets the needs of the people represented by the Teamsters.”

Aldes told the News Tribune that state administrators will “probably” order the union back to the bargaining table during the cooling-off period.


“We’re willing to go back to the table,” he said, “but I’m not going to beg these people to go back to the table.”

About 150 Teamsters work at the University of Minnesota Duluth, according to Gus Froemke, the union’s communications director. Communications staff at UMD did not immediately return a News Tribune request for comment.

The strike vote comes about a week after the university system and union sparred online.

The university’s most recent offer would mean a 3.85% across-the-board wage increase plus further increases for specific types of jobs, Kenneth Horstman, the U’s vice president for human resources, claimed in an Oct. 7 email to students, staff and faculty .

That would mean a 5% average wage increase for Teamsters members, Horstman said, and would bring the average union members’ hourly starting wage to $21.67 per hour — a 7.3% increase.

Overall, average union members’ wages would rise by about 5%, Horstman claimed.

But union staff said Horstman’s email is misleading . They claimed that the university’s proposed wage increase does not keep up with inflation. It also doesn’t meet the $20-per-hour minimum wage the union is seeking in this round of contract talks.

In an interview with the News Tribune, Aldes claimed that some union members had been working at the U of M for 20 years and were making less than $18 per hour. He said he wasn’t sure how much the minimum wage proposal would mean for across-the-board wages.


“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “They’re earning a poverty wage. That’s what matters.”

He noted, though, that Teamsters members start with wages slightly below $16 per hour.

Also at issue is the U of M's proposal to waive state-mandated negotiations on health insurance in future contract negotiations, according to Aldes and Froemke.

“All the other contracts that we have or employees that we represent, they all have access to negotiated health insurance with their employers,” Froemke said. “And this is actually very troubling to us. Very, very troubling to us and how we negotiate contracts.”

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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