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They Are Both Wrong
Authored on October 17, 2003

Sit back ladies and gentlemen, you are in the midst of dirty labor relations.  Granted, things won't be as ugly as other labor disputes-so you won't find severed cattle heads on the cars of targets of union intimidation.  Sans that level violence, the current dispute between AFSCME and the University does have the level of pettiness found in ugly labor disputes.

Let us be clear about who is wrong in this dispute.  Both sides are.  The University has been negotiating in anything but good faith.  The union has been phone banking teetering the line between intimidation for support and asking for support.  Whose tactics are sophomoric?  Both sides have been.  On the surface, President Bruinicks has been presenting the image that the University has the high ground.  It is only a facade.

Carol Carrier, Vice President of the Office of Human Resources, has engaged in rumormongering.  In an e-mail ostensibly to the union leadership on October 14 she spoke in suspicious, vague terms and states that, "[r]umors have been circulating" about "unprotected [strike] activity."  In poor form she included the entire AFSCME membership in on this vacuous e-mail and never once explains what unprotected activity is for the employees that she is 'helping'.  There is not any mention of the source of the supposed rumors or any offer to root out the source of the rumors.  There are a few reasons for this: intimidation, threats, and instill fear.

One of the greatest mud-slinging tactics in world is for someone to create a lie and say the information came to them via rumor.  The rumors that Carol alludes to give her office the opportunity to offer veiled threats to the union membership by using phrases such as "legal recourse" and "termination of employment"; phrases that she would be forced to exercise more care in if she did not use the ploy of addressing "rumors" that mysteriously came into her office.  Rather than being a responsible leader and contacting the leaders of the union to help root out false information, she maliciously aggravated the situation by including the entire membership.  These threats should be illegal.  Her misinformation in the numerous e-mails and the tenor within should be understood as the calculated effort that they are: to scare members to break the union.

On other side of the coin is the union leadership, who are telling members that crossing the picket line will, "cause the loss of all of [their] union co-worker's respect" and that life 'in the office' will be very difficult for those who cross.  Numerous high pressure and threatening calls have been received by some of my co-workers on a daily basis from the union.  Contrary to what some of those calls say there is no obligation to strike.  Such intimidation has already begun.  For example, the spouse of a friend cannot strike or the couple will lose the house they are to close on in the next two weeks.  The union co-workers ignore this hardship as they have given her the silent treatment at the detriment to the office's efficiency.  Intimidation is the veiled tactic by the union.

It is like watching two schoolyard bullies shouting to get more kids to stand behind them through intimidation and threats.  Pathetic!  And it is harming the efficiency of the office place.

So what is this fight for?  Ask the union and they will say that they are fighting Armageddon from occurring.  Ask the University and they will say they have been reasonable and fair. 

The University has reneged on items that they have conceded in recent years.  They have been acting like thugs from Goodfellas saying this year step increases and cost of living raises cost them money they cannot afford.  Interesting how the exact opposite has been true in years before.  They previously argued cost of living and longevity increases keep workers in the job saving the U from expending money on the entire hiring and training process.  Somehow in the University's thuggery it costs them money to allow laid-off members to be given priority in job openings on campus.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, and any union member will be more than happy to provide further examples of the hypocrisy from the administration.

Do not believe the union sky is falling, either.  The simple truth that the union does not want people to know is that while the package from University may be presented in a dishonest manner, and while the reasoning behind the University's position is consistent with that of an elementary student, the package en toto is much better than could be achieved in the same jobs anywhere else in the Twin Cities.  It is true that the health care costs are increasing, but those rates are still better than, for example, my wife's in the federal government.  Wages may be frozen, but in the private sector many people are experiencing actual pay cuts.  The other benefit that the union does not vocally consider is that the employees have a tuition reimbursement program better than any off-campus employer: free.  What would that be worth to an employee enrolled in a graduate class?

Those are the problems.  What are the solutions?  Both sides need to fix how they target their rhetoric.  Both sides are using negative tactics to present their case to members.  They all need to be forthcoming and positive.  Carrier should have explained why the University's offer is too good to strike against instead of using veiled threats.  The union leaders should present their case to members instead of projecting the "management" as evil.  Both sides are forgetting that once this is over we all still have to be in the office together.  Internal tactics are poor from the union and abysmal from the University.  To solve this, to their members the union should simply focus on the positive aspects of their position.  The Vice President of Human Resources should be tactful, less offensive and not send a barrage of mail to employees' homes or questionable e-mails in high quantity.  Perhaps Carrier is capable of that and if so she should return to that.

Both sides need to remember which observers of this tragic comedy need to be addressed.  Though we are on campus the student body and faculty have close to no power in this labor dispute.  Support one way or another from the students and faculty is nice but irrelevant.  The media, the citizens, and legislators have more power in this battle and those are the people both sides need to win over.  The image of the union outside the University is that of ungrateful whiners.  The image the University portrays is that of the victim.  For the union this can be corrected by hiring a public relations manager that will project a less combative image.  The University needs to pray that the extent of their underhanded and devious tactics in the negotiations and strike preparations never sees the light of the public--the outrage and backlash will be devastating.

In the end, with whom do I side?  Neither side.  Their childish behavior has been increasing the inner office tension making the office place less efficient.  Most union workers I work with feel as I do.  We want both sides to leave us alone to do our jobs.  I hope by showing the childish behavior of the University and the union the insanity will end so that we can get back to work.