The Potluck

U of M reaches tentative agreement with services workers, averts strike

By: - October 24, 2022 9:47 am

Marissa Bremer-Roark, a building and grounds worker at the University of Minnesota, leads her fellow workers in a chant calling for higher wages on Aug. 30, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The union representing some 1,500 cooks, custodians, mechanics and other service workers at the University of Minnesota called off strikes after reaching a tentative agreement on Saturday.

The Teamsters Local 320 says the tentative agreement, which must be approved by workers and the university’s Board of Regents, raises workers’ wages by at least 12% over the life of the three-year contract. New union employees would see the biggest gains with the minimum wage rising from $15 to $20 an hour, backdated to July 1.

“It was a long, hard-fought battle,” said Teamsters Local 320 Secretary Treasurer Brian Aldes. “Our members can begin the process of being lifted out of poverty.”

Workers said they were intent on “ending poverty wages” at the university, pointing to a recent survey of service workers at the university that found that 61% do not have enough money to pay for basic expenses and 8% have experienced homelessness while working for the university.

In addition to wage increases, the agreement also includes guaranteed work for some dining hall staff during the summer months. That was a key priority for workers, who are effectively laid off for three months each year but aren’t able to collect unemployment benefits. Under the agreement, 12-month union employees in dining services will be able to work at least 30 hours a week during the summer.

In a statement shared with students, faculty and staff, the university said it was “pleased to reach an equitable settlement that fairly compensates our Teamsters employees.”

The agreement came after more than 50 hours of mediation and includes higher wage increases than the university’s previous “last best final offer” as well as a longer lifespan. Before workers voted to strike for the first time in history, the university offered 5% increases on average in a one-year contract.

The union wanted a three-year contract to provide more economic stability to its members and to fend off potential cuts to health benefits. Aldes said the university aimed to put health insurance into a committee process controlled by the university.

Aldes said the union also protected seniority rights, so that the university can’t hire inexperienced workers at a higher pay rate than current employees.

The raises will likely make the university a more competitive employer, having struggled to fill scores of campus positions. The union blames low wages, citing the university’s own analysis showing wages are 13% lower than the market rate.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.

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