The Potluck

U of M service workers set strike dates as negotiations stall

By: - October 20, 2022 7:29 pm

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 1,500 service workers across the University of Minnesota announced workers will strike at the university’s two largest campuses for four days next week if they fail to reach a deal on a one-year contract.

The Teamsters Local 320 said on Thursday that workers at the Twin Cities campus will begin striking on Wednesday, Oct. 26, and return to work that Sunday. Workers at the Duluth campus will begin striking on Saturday, Oct. 29, and return the following Wednesday. Workers at the university’s other campuses will not strike.

The strike, which would be a first for the university service workers, threatens to upend nearly every facet of the university’s operations with cooks, custodians, mechanics, groundskeepers, laboratory animal attendants and other workers walking off the job.

“We are going to do everything we can to reach an agreement. But if we cannot reach an agreement, the membership needs to be prepared to go on strike beginning next week,” the Teamsters said in a statement.

The University of Minnesota released a statement saying it is “committed to staying at the negotiating table for as long as necessary to reach an equitable settlement that ensures our employees are fairly compensated and rewarded for their work.”

Union workers say they’re determined to win significant pay increases after years of stagnant wages.

“We intend to end poverty wages at the University of Minnesota,” said Mick Kelly, 65, a cook who’s worked at the university for 20 years, during a news conference announcing the strike vote.

The union is seeking a 10% general wage increase and an additional 5% increase for long-term workers at the top of their pay scale. They also want a $20 an hour minimum wage and year-round work for their members, many of whom are only contracted for the school year but cannot collect unemployment benefits during the summers.

The union said workers and university officials met for 12 hours on Wednesday and there was “some progress” on economic issues, but that the university has rejected some of its other key priorities such as summer work.

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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.