It’s been a while since we’ve given a comprehensive Union bargaining update. This is mainly due to how microscopic the administration’s movement has been in the last several months. Bargaining has all but come to a standstill- with us fighting for affordable healthcare, job security, and livable wages on one side, and the administration fighting for the turnover-driving status quo on the other.
The administration has indicated that they see no issue with the astronomical cost of our healthcare, therefore they don’t want to improve it. They want the status quo and nothing more. Meanwhile, health insurance for a family at Augsburg costs roughly $14,000/year before the plan significantly starts to cover costs, which prices most people who need family-level care out of coverage, or drives them away from Augsburg. (Only 10% of our bargaining unit selects family coverage.) In a comparison with other Minnesota private colleges and ELCA-affiliated schools nationally, Augsburg is dead-last in affordability. This must change.
Since we started bargaining on March 9, 2021, the Union has proposed a higher minimum salary floor for all positions. The administration’s current counterproposal leaves 97% of the unit without a base floor increase, and the remaining 3% with a very small bump. Additionally, the administration only wants to offer a 2% cost of living increase for 2023, and 1.5% each subsequent year. Yet in the last 12 months, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 9.1%.
If you’re an Augsburg VP, maybe you earn enough to not feel the same impact of inflation plus Twin Cities housing costs (and especially if Augsburg gives you a free house!). Unfortunately, our average staff person earns only $50,000/year, hence our ask for a living wage. Augsburg has also been paying an expensive management attorney to deal with the Union for the last two years. Every day they don’t settle our contract, that cost continues.
The administration has not said they can’t afford to pay us more, only that they are not interested in doing so. They should honor true Lutheran values and start sharing the wealth, or give us a clear reason why they can’t.
Admin has reiterated, emphatically, that we should not have a guarantee of layoff by seniority, which is the overwhelming standard in the vast majority of union contracts nationwide- including the Operating Engineers’ contract with Augsburg, which covers facilities and custodial staff. In 2020, the administration arbitrarily laid off dozens of staff to deal with a pre-Covid budget “crisis” (or what some believe was an “accounting error”). People who had worked for Augsburg for up to 20 years were let go in one of the most uncertain times in any of our lives.
Most union contracts require layoffs by seniority because it’s the only truly fair method of dealing with the rare instance of layoffs. It removes favoritism and unfair targeting of staff in favor of an objective standard based on years of service. We don’t anticipate layoffs, and neither does the administration. But under our proposal, if they occur, there would be clear and consistent criteria for who is laid off and how. Our proposal also would provide an opportunity for people to take on other jobs at Augsburg before being laid off, if qualified. Finally, those laid off would be given some severance pay, continued insurance, and priority for rehire.
What is the administration’s proposal? To do layoffs of whoever they want, however they want. This isn’t fair and isn’t in line with the union standard across the country.
The administration is demanding that we waive our rights under federal labor law and waive all rights to bargain over any changes to our working conditions. Under labor law, the employer always maintains the right to run its business and has final decision making authority. But the law also gives our Union the right to bargain over changes that affect us. Admin wants to take our voice away from us, which was a fundamental reason we formed a Union.
We have successful examples over the past year where we have bargained over management-proposed changes before they were implemented: a mandatory vaccine policy (which resulted in us bargaining 16 extra hours of PTO for everyone), healthcare renewals for 2022 (which resulted in us bargaining increases down from 5% to 2.5%), a wage increase for 2022, and more.
Without our federally-protected right to bargain over working conditions, admin could do whatever they want and never talk to us about it. They could change your job description, overhaul the Employee Handbook, or make changes we can’t anticipate. This certainly does not respect the democratic process we went through to form a union, and this is why we cannot waive our rights under the law.
These are big issues. It’s been 16 months of this frustrating posture by the administration to ignore our concerns and believe that our proposals will make a better Augsburg for all. The longer they hold out on providing affordable wages, healthcare, and job protections, the worse this turnover crisis is going to get. Even if admin thinks they’re going to “win” by saving whatever money they can on this contract, they’re going to lose in the long run when the turnover crisis begins to hurt our prestige as a university because staff is no longer able to adequately support the students. We’ve heard over and over from students how admin’s deliberate understaffing affects them. When will admin act to stop the bleeding and treat us fairly?