A number of University of Minnesota workers voiced their concerns regarding wages and working conditions in front of the Board of Regents Fridayafternoon.
Calling for “respect and raises” as they renegotiate new collective bargaining agreements, unionized workers addressed issues in front of the board, including employee sick and parental leave, shortages in staff and pay.
Workers represented by AFSCME have seen a roughly 16 percent decrease in staff, while academic professional jobs have grown by more than 24 percent from 2008 to 2014, according to data provided by AFSCME.
“This isn’t Wal-Mart or Target or US Bank — this is a public land-grant institution funded by taxpayers and student tuition,” Horazuk said.
Claire Thiele, a lab animal attendant represented by Teamsters 320, said she finds her department understaffed and underpaid.
“If our work isn’t done properly, it not only hurts the animals, but jeopardizes months and years of potentially life-saving research,” Thiele said.
Unions are also demanding changes to the sick leave policy, which sometimes requires doctors’ notes and allows managers to approve sick days.
Some workers say the policy isn’t flexible enough, especially for employees with families.
“We have parents trying to take care of sick kids and workers coming in with the flu,” said Mick Kelly, a cook at Centennial Hall.
Parental leave has been an issue for faculty and graduate students in the past. Faculty and professional and administrative employees who are new mothers are allowed six weeks of paid leave, and fathers are allowed two weeks paid leave plus four unpaid. Labor represented workers are given two weeks of paid leave, according to the University’s Office of Human Resources.
Allison Brimeyer, a faculty assistant at the Carlson School of Management, said clerical workers are told to use their sick days to extend a paid leave.
“It’s hard to save sick time up,” Brimeyer said at the Board of Regents meeting. “It takes us many, many years to save up enough just to receive the same paid time that faculty get on day one.”
Reinstating the Regents Scholarship
The Regent’s Scholarship
used to allow University employees to take classes for free, but in 2009, regents voted to reduce the scholarship to cover 75 percent of tuition for University employees seeking their first degree.
Horazuk said she has been advocating for reinstating the full scholarship for years.
“Many of our members can’t afford to pay anything,” she said. “Some of us can’t even afford to send our kids to the university we work at.”
Professor Eva von Dassow, the Faculty Senate’s vice chair, said in an email she is drafting a resolution to restore the program to cover employee tuition 100 percent.
She said the cuts to the program have caused low enrollment in classes and shrinkages to certain programs.
Regent David McMillan said he understands the importance of allowing employees to invest in further education but said employees should pay for some portion of their classes.
“I don’t think it’s too bad right now. I think we’re paying the bulk of it,” McMillan said.
Negotiations started June 6, and talks usually continue into fall, Horazuk said.