UMN union criticizes university's response to pro-Palestine encampment

University of Minnesota employees are urging campus leaders to re-open buildings closed due to protests, as they say the closures are causing enormous hardships.

Around 50 custodians and food service workers, along with hundreds of graduate students, say they are unable to work due to building closures associated with pro-Palestine protests on campus. 

In a letter to the administration, Teamsters Local 320 said 24 dining employees are sitting at home without pay, while dozens of custodians are being forced to use their vacation time.

"Pretty soon expenses are going to start coming in and there was pay that I was expecting from these last couple of weeks of the semester that now I’m not sure whether or not I’m going to be receiving," said Justin Roda who works as a cook in Coffman Memorial Union.

Roda says employees were only given an hour's notice that the buildings would be closing Monday, and there has been no communication about re-opening plans. 

The university said the closures are a safety precaution, but Roda said the protests have remained peaceful and he did not see the need to close the buildings.

"I don’t feel threatened by any of this and I think the university administration is overreacting," he said.

The building closures have also stalled research being done on campus, as graduate and PhD students say they are unable to access laboratories.

"If I had to choose between the protests and the university and which one was causing a greater disruption to me working towards my degree… its being locked out of this building," said Cal Mergendahl, who is a research assistant in the chemistry department.

In an email to employees Wednesday evening, school officials said all employees would be paid despite being unable to work.

The email read in part: "Employees will not lose pay because they are unable to work due to building closures. The University agrees that all non-essential employees who opted to not work in a reassigned facility should be paid to stay home, including Buildings and Grounds workers. Additionally, we will not discipline employees for work that they could not perform due to the closure or any damage that might have occurred due to the short notice before the closure."

A representative with Teamsters Local 320 responded to the email saying they were pleased with the developments but still urged officials to re-open the buildings as soon as possible.