1,500 U of M workers to announce whether they will authorize strike

Fifteen hundred union workers at the University of Minnesota are sounding the alarm on what they call chronic understaffing and poverty wages.

The votes have been cast, and on Monday afternoon, university workers who are members of Teamsters Local 320 will announce whether they’ve voted to authorize a strike. They're the employees who prepare the food, keep the dorms clean and maintain the lab animals.

"They're the ones responsible for the students’ quality of life," said Brian Aldes, secretary treasurer and principal officer of Teamsters Local 320. "Our members do what they do because they love serving the students and the university campus and the communities that they're located in."

The union and university have failed to reach a deal after months of negotiating. The union said the earliest workers could potentially walk off the job would be Oct 22. However, even if they vote to authorize a strike, that doesn’t necessarily mean a strike will happen. They could still come to a deal before it reaches that point.

"We don't want to be in this position, and it really creates a lot of anxiety for the workers, too. But they've had it," Aldes said.

The union workers are advocating for three main points: at least $20 an hour for every employee, pay increases that keep up with inflation, and the opportunity to work during the summers. Aldes said some union workers are still making less than $16 an hour.

"Sixty-two percent of our folks reported not being able to meet their basic living expenses on a monthly basis," he explained.

The university told FOX 9 that the proposal it made last Thursday represented "the highest increase it's offered the Teamsters in 26 years." It’s an average increase of more than 5 percent, bringing the average pay to nearly $21.67 an hour.

U of M also recently offered refunds to students with meal plans because staffing issues have led to limited meal options and dining hall hours being cut.

The union argued that dining halls are understaffed because workers aren't being offered enough money. Union officials also said to address the staffing shortage, the university has hired contracted workers from out-of-state, who are being paid more than university employees.

In a statement to FOX 9, the university said, in part: "The University has been negotiating in good faith with Teamsters 320 leaders since June with the very best of intentions. We want all of our union employees to feel valued and to earn market-rate pay for their work, while we make sound financial decisions on behalf of the University and the taxpayers of the state of Minnesota."

The statement also said, "We will always negotiate in good faith to provide our valued union employees with appropriate raises and additional support. While negotiations can be difficult for all involved, we will continue to ensure that our community has the full information."