February 27, 2007: Now is the time to win a strong new contract for the 1,200 Local 320 Teamsters at the University of Minnesota, members say. “We’re bargaining from a position of strength this year,” said Erik Jensen, a janitor at the University. “Some of the new people in the legislature got there because voters are so mad at funding cuts for education. We’ve got to use this opportunity to get the best contract we can for the workers who make the school operate.”
The Local 320 contract expires on July 1. In March members of the bargaining unit, custodial, cafeteria, and grounds crews at the university, will elect a negotiating committee.
Rank-and-file Teamsters are organizing a grassroots contract campaign to help win a strong contract.
Jensen and other reform-minded Teamsters are running for the bargaining committee. The membership has elected Jensen to the bargaining committee for the last five contracts.
“Our union leaders usually don’t have an organized plan,” said David Kremer, a candidate for the bargaining committee. “In the past, it’s been up to TDU members to come up with a plan to win what we need.”
In addition to wage gains, Teamster activists are pushing to tighten up wage progression, an ironclad no-privatization agreement to protect jobs, and improvements to retirees’ health savings account.
“We have a pension plan, and we’re proud of that. But many members can’t afford to retire because of pricey health care premiums,” Kremer explained. “Retiring members should be able to put unused sick days into health care savings accounts. Employees at Minnesota technical colleges have already won this benefit.”
Family leave is also an issue. Right now, some departments allow new parents to take their parental leave in flexible chunks. But others won’t. Rank and file leaders have won the support of sympathetic faculty members who want to push the administration for a more flexible and fair rule.
Keep Members in the Loop
The local reformers are committed to keeping the membership informed about bargaining. “We have a commitment to openness,” Jensen said. “In the past, the local tried to keep a lid on what was going on in bargaining. We won’t be secretive. We want to get information out to the members, because we’re counting on their support.”
“This is our chance to lead,” Kremer said. “We can get a strong contract if we get the membership to support our demands at the table.”