Members and allies of AFSCME at UMD (clerical, tech and health care workers) held an informational picket earlier this month, calling on the administration to pay a living wage and make benefits affordable as it negotiates its contract. The rally was held in solidarity with members of Teamsters Local 320, which represents service workers at the University of Minnesota, which had announced workers will strike at the university’s two largest campuses for four days this week before reaching a deal on a one-year contract.

AFSCME was scheduled to go into mediation to find more common ground in its negotiations. “We want to show we’re willing to stand up for our standard of living,” said Andrea Sande, president of AFSCME Local 3801. One of the biggest points of contention in negotiations is the wage proposal; the union is pushing for a $3/hour increase across the board, while the administration is countering with 3.85 percent across the board. “That’s less than 50 cents an hour for some of our lowest-paid members,” Sande said. “It sounds good, but it doesn’t keep up with inflation.”

A $3/hour increase would mean about another $500 a month, and Sande shared some of the changes that would make in members lives: replacing an unreliable vehicle, paying rent, getting kids into extracurricular activities, and “helping pay my kid’s UMD tuition.” Other disagreements include getting Juneteenth as a paid holiday, increasing augmentation for bilingual staff members to $1/hour to compensate for on-the-job translation they may do, and paid time off for tribal members to participate in tribal elections, similar to state and federal election.

AFSCME leaders also provided information pointing out that the university has added 59 academic administrative positions since the pandemic began, the only employee group to gain in number, while 290 AFSCME positions have been lost in the same amount of time. Other losses included 176 Teamsters, 121 civil service, 49 faculty and 84 professional, the union said.

Hundreds of Steelworkers, retirees and allies gathered in Virginia, Minn., earlier this month to rally for a fair contract for workers at U.S. Steel properties on the Iron Range.
Members of Locals 2660 (Keetac) and 1938 (Minntac) have been working without a contract since the previous one expired on Sept. 1. Steelworkers at Cleveland Cliffs properties reached an agreement with the employer last month, and the union is pushing hard for a comparable offer from U.S. Steel.
Speakers at the rally included Labor-endorsed State Representatives Julie Sandstede (DFL-7A) and Dave Lislegard (DFL-7B), himself a former Steelworker, among other Labor-endorsed candidates and politicians.
Chris Johnson, president of USW Local 2705 (Hibtac), expressed solidarity to the local at U.S. Steel properties. “We’re here for you, we stand with you. You’re all essential workers and kept them going. People don’t think labor unions are necessary? That’s bullshit.”
“We’re in a battle,” said Bobby Zgonc, trustee of USW Local 1938. “It’s great to see everybody here willing to stand up for Steelworkers.”
The chant of “FDB! FDB!” — referring to U.S. Steel CEO Dave Burritt — rang out between speakers.
Steelworkers at U.S. Steel properties say its proposal fails to meet the standard set by the contract with Cleveland-Cliffs. The Cliffs agreement included wage increases of 8 percent, and then three years of 4 percent each, while the USS proposal was 3 percent the first year, 3 percent for the next two years and 4 percent for the fourth year.
The Cliffs agreement adds Juneteenth as a holiday; U.S. Steel rejected this suggestion, as well as pension increases and vacation changes. The company is insisting on “significant” health care changes as well.

“The cap on insurance means if you hit the threshold, you don’t even know how much you’re out of pocket,” said Tawnya Gustafson, vice president of Local 2660 and a trainer in the Keetac plant. She said the proposal to take major local healthcare providers (Mayo and Essentia) out of network was devastating as well. “These are the fights where if we don’t get a fair contract, it will affect the whole community,” she said.

As negotiations drag on, Gustafson said people have dialed back purchasing decisions. “No one is buying anything, their lives are on hold. During these times, that’s the hardest.”

Dave Smith, a millwright with Local 2660 said it was disheartening that the Cleveland Cliffs negotiations went so smoothly and the current negotiations with U.S. Steel are so difficult. “It’s like U.S. Steel doesn’t value us,” he said. After the difficulties of keeping work going during the pandemic and the toll working in the mines takes on their bodies, Smith said it’s frustrating that cutting health insurance is a priority for U.S. Steel.

“These mining companies are having a hard enough time bringing new employees into the facilities, and when you have issues with healthcare and wages, the younger generation is going to be looking elsewhere for job opportunities,” said Dan Pierce, a diesel mechanic with 2660 and the grievance chair for the local. “The only way to keep them is to pay them.”

Emil Ramirez, director of USW District 11, said that while both sides are a long ways apart, he’s confident they’ll get to a deal. He highlighted how U.S. Steel made record profits during the pandemic while thousands of employees got covid and seven USW members died.

“We know what Dave Burritt did at Caterpillar,” Ramirez said, referring to the deep cuts and anti-union actions at the company. “It’s the same thing here. He’s running from the union.”

Ramirez was referring to an action Steelworkers took several days before the rally, when Burritt was in Keewatin to tout a $150 million investment in the facility so it can produce direct-reduced pellets (“DR grade”). Union leaders acknowledged the importance of the investment, while also massing along Burritt’s planned route to the facility to highlight their demand for a fair contract, forcing him to take a different route.

In Virginia, signs in almost every business window express support for Steelworkers and urge U.S. Steel to come to the table for a fair contract. “We had people here from Pittsburgh (during negotiations with Cliffs), and they saw how unionized our community is,” said Jaime Winger, president of USW Local 6860 (UTac/Fairlane). “Even if the mom’n’pop stores aren’t union, they support the union, because they know how a strong contract puts spending power in the community.”

Governor and Lt. Governor
Tim Walz & Peggy Flanagan

Attorney General
Keith Ellison

Secretary of State
Steve Simon

State Auditor
Julie Blaha

U.S. House Congr. District 8
Jen Schultz

MN Senate 3
Grant Hauschild
MN House District 3A
Rob Ecklund

MN House District 3B
Mary Murphy

MN Senate 7
Ben DeNucci

MN House 7A
Julie Sandstede

MN House 7B
Dave Lislegard

MN House District 8A
Liz Olson

MN House District 11A
Pete Radosevich

St. Louis County Sheriff
Jason Lukovsky

St. Louis County Attorney
Kim Maki

St. Louis County Board
District 1
Anne Harala

Please contact Central Labor Body President Beth McCuskey about donating to the Labor Day Picnic Fund or if you’re interested in volunteering. We need your help to make this a great event!