Fifteen hundred service workers at the University of Minnesota, represented by Teamsters Local 320, voted to authorize a strike on Oct. 10.
This development came after two weeks of voting. The results came with 93% in favor of authorizing a strike, according to a press conference held by the Teamsters.
“We’re not excited that we’re at this point in our bargaining,” said Brian Aldes, principal officer and secretary treasurer of Teamsters local 320, in a press conference. “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.”
The University of Minnesota says it is committed to coming to an agreement with the Teamsters.
“We are fully committed to continuing to find common ground with our valued employees and their leadership and to avoid a disruptive strike that would hurt members of our university community—including those employees,” said Kenneth E. Horstman, vice president for human resources at the University of Minnesota, in an email sent on Oct.12 to faculty, staff and students and shared with FoodService Director, "We look forward to joining the Teamsters at the bargaining table in the coming days to reach a fair and respectful agreement.”
The negotiation process has gone on for several months, with the Teamsters asking for higher wages. They have rejected the university’s “last best final offer,” which included an average wage increase of 5% for Teamster employees, according to an email the university sent to faculty, staff and students. Additionally, the university said its offer would be the highest wage increase for Teamster employees in over 26 years.
“The university has made comments that their last best final offer provides 8% wage increases for Teamsters’ workers on the University of Minnesota campus. That’s true in only very few cases. Many of our members, in fact those that it impacts the most, would see an increase of less than 4%,” said Aldes in response to the university’s offer.
Those represented by the union include groundskeepers, custodians, cooks and other service workers, who say the wages offered perpetuate poverty.
“When we talk about poverty wages, it’s not a rhetorical device, it’s a fact that we’re living,” said Mick Kelly, a cook at the University of Minnesota, in a press conference held by the Teamsters, “Right now, at the University of Minnesota there’s people who have worked here for 25 years and are receiving $17.76 an hour. We have members who are homeless, we have members who are my age living in people’s basements. That’s the reality of work at the university.”
Staffing shortages in the university’s foodservice department have resulted in reduced hours and menu offerings. The university recently offered students a 50% refund on September meal plan charges. The Teamsters attribute the staffing shortages to the wages offered. Due to the lack of staff, the university has turned to bringing in contract workers at rates higher than what is offered for staff, according to the Teamsters.
“They advertise it at a wage that’s greater than $20 an hour. Our members that work in dining services start below $16 an hour,” said Aldes.
The Teamsters said they do not have any flexibility in what they’ve proposed.
“At our current wages, 62% of our members and former members reported not being able to meet their basic monthly living expenses at one point or another. Nineteen percent of our members surveyed have reported that they have had to give up meals on a day-to-day basis to meet their basic monthly living expenses,” Aldes said. “So, we don’t believe we have any flexibility in our economic proposals.”
The university maintains that it pays workers fair wages.
“The university provides our employees not only with fair pay, but with extensive and generous health and wellbeing benefits,” it said in an email to the university community. “From vacation and sick time to comprehensive employee and family healthcare, the university is consistently ranked by workers across Minnesota as a desired employer.”
The Teamsters have not disclosed when the strike might take place, but it could happen as early as Oct.22.