MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A union of 1,300 mechanics, custodial, food service and maintenance workers at the University of Minnesota has authorized its negotiating committee to call a strike if it can't reach a contract agreement later this month.
The mail-in ballots of Teamsters Local 320 were counted Tuesday. While the union doesn't release vote totals, local Secretary-Treasurer Sue Mauren said the vote authorizing a strike was "overwhelming."
"I'm hoping and I'm optimistic that we can get a contract settlement, but we had a strong message today," Mauren said. "We want to help the university out in this difficult budget time, but their wage and insurance proposals would set our members back. We think the university is trying to balance the budget on the backs of the lowest-paid workers."
Teamsters members make an average of $25,000 to $30,000 a year, Mauren said. The university's proposal for a wage freeze and higher employee contributions to health insurance effectively cuts wages, Mauren said.
This spring, legislators cut state funding to the university for 2004-05 by $185 million. The fiscal 2004 budget passed by regents assumes that almost everyone at the school will take a wage freeze next year. The budget for fiscal 2005 won't be approved until next year.
Carol Carrier, university vice president for human resources, said the school has proposed a wage freeze for the first year of union contracts but hasn't made a "firm proposal" for wages in the second year. Union members also would see a jump in health care costs.
"All our employees are facing that," she said. "We understand how difficult some of these issues are."
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