Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Voice of Reason?
The AFSCME Strike at BigU Continues

A University of Minnesota faculty member has written an opinion piece on the strike that appeared this morning in the Strib, excerpts of which are given below:

In labor markets, economists theorize that employers reward productivity gains with wage and salary increments that also cover inflation. This year, the University of Minnesota won funds from the Legislature for an overall 3.25 percent annual salary increment. U administrators awarded faculty and other professional employees raises of 3.25 percent and higher. Left to the last, the clerical and technical workers were offered only 2.25 percent and health-care workers 2.5 percent, not even enough to counter rising costs of living.

The university contends publicly that its offer is 4.25 percent, a figure achieved by folding in the normal step increases to which workers are entitled. Step hikes reward productivity gains that come with experience. They encourage and reward longevity, saving the university considerable training and ramp-up costs from turnover. The equivalents of step increases for faculty members -- the large salary jumps involved in moving from assistant to associate to full professor -- are not computed into annual increases. Gov. Tim Pawlenty agreed to raises of 3.25 percent in addition to step increases for state employees. The 4.25 percent claim is misleading and disingenuous.

The university's resistance sends the message to our support staff that their skills and commitment are not valued and that they are replaceable. Most faculty and professional workers on campus understand the key role that clerical, technical and health-care colleagues play in advising students and solving problems; in time-dependent grant and payroll work, and in events operations, alumni interface, patient care, technology monitoring, bill paying and much more. They have had to learn and implement many new technology systems. Their institutional memory, knowledge of university rules and procedures, and networks of relationships inside and outside the university are central to the viability of our educational, research and outreach activities. They deserve a productivity increase comparable to that given to the rest of us.

Ironically, it costs the university much less to give a 3.25 percent raise to clerical and technical workers than it does to give the same increase to faculty and administrative staff, most of whom earn much higher salaries. We're not talking large sums here. Raising the offer from 2.25 percent to 3.25 percent for a striking worker who makes $30,000 a year would cost just $300, while a comparable 1 percent for a faculty or administrator who makes $80,000 would cost $800. We're not talking about much more than a million, a small fraction of the U budget.

For efficiency, equity and affirmative action's sake, the university should offer the union 3.25 percent as quickly as possible. The strike is causing considerable disruption to our teaching, research, outreach and financial activities. The longer it goes on, the more good workers we will lose, because the best will leave when they aren't treated well. Why go through all this for such a tiny share of the university budget?

Ann Markusen is professor and director of the Project on Regional and Industrial Economics at the university of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Meanwhile on another planet, Al Franken visited the U in support of AFSCME and some excerpts from an article in yesterday's Daily follow:

Franken shows his support for campus strikers

The politician said fair wages and treatment are important factors in motivating workers.

By Elizabeth Graca

Franken is "not the only candidate using the strike to shop for votes," said University spokesman Dan Wolter. "(It) is part of the political process."

[Dan Wolter is a mouthpiece for BigU's administration.]

Wolter also expressed the administration's hope that Franken will continue to address higher education in the future.

Franken said higher education has been a concern of his before the strike, and it would continue to be after the dispute is resolved.

"Students here need to know, they need to be reminded what unions and what labor is about," Franken said. "The unions gave this country a middle class. The unions gave this country the weekend."

"Imagine that, a learning moment at a University," he said.

In the same issue of the Daily, the aforementioned mouthpiece reports the good news that:

Fundraising and construction move forward

By Jake Grovum

The financial plans for the stadium call on the University to raise $86.5 million in sponsorships and donations, University spokesman Dan Wolter said. The University has raised just over $60 million so far and has less than $25 million left to locate.

Social justice anyone?

Two interesting quotes - guess where they came from before you hit the link.

Investing in "human capital" is one of the most important values of any society and one of the most effective means to promote democratic understanding and social justice.

The question arose, “why public work?” as a distinctive, different framework, compared, for instance, to the more widespread understanding of civic engagement that focuses on educating students for civic virtue, or an approach focused on the pursuit of social justice in a world of grave injustices.

(It is not hard to find things like this on the BigU website and I didn't even try to locate the most outrageous. But then some pigs are more equal than other pigs.)