U strike: Largely business as usual on Day 1

  • Article by: JEFF SHELMAN and CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 5, 2007 - 9:54 PM

Clerical, technical and health care workers went on strike Wednesday morning, but the business of the University of Minnesota continued with few apparent interruptions. Union officials said they were pleased with the number of workers who walked off their jobs.

Emilie Sinkula said the decision to walk off her job as a teacher at the University of Minnesota Child Care Center and go on strike was a difficult one.

"There were a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of tears," Sinkula said. "We'd love to be with our kids."

But on Wednesday afternoon, Sinkula and several co-workers were on Northrop Mall, picket signs in hand, as technical, clerical and health care workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) rallied on day one of their strike, seeking higher wages than the university is offering. No new negotiations have been scheduled.

Sinkula and her colleagues didn't know for sure what was happening at the facility serving 140 preschool children near the East Bank campus. They knew the child care center was open because some of their co-workers crossed the picket line.

"I know there are some people we work with who would love to be on the picket line, but they can't afford it," said child care teacher Monique Matic. "They're single moms or they're newly married couples [who] can't afford to be out for one week or one day. In a way we're striking for them, too."

While much of the business of the university went on as scheduled Wednesday, some areas across campus felt the strike's impact.

It's unclear exactly how many of about 3,500 employees covered by AFSCME contracts went on strike when picket lines went up at 7 a.m. The university said roughly two-thirds of those employees reported to work. University spokesman Daniel Wolter said disruptions were minimal.

Union officials said they were pleased with the turnout on the picket lines on the Twin Cities campus as well as the campuses in Duluth, Morris and Crookston.

Strikers visible across campus

"It's been incredible," said Phyllis Walker, president of the local representing the clerical workers. "To walk out onto the mall and see those strike signs going back as far as I could see was a beautiful sight."

Strikers were ubiquitous across the Twin Cities campus Wednesday, but many students said the strike had little direct impact on their daily lives.

"Everything's been running pretty smoothly," freshman Caitlin LaChapelle-Gustafson said minutes after signing a petition supporting the strike.

Several students who visited Boynton Health Service said there wasn't an unusual wait or obvious disruption to the student clinic.

Troy Karkula, a nurse at Boynton, said about 20 striking clinic employees included medical assistants and clerical staff. He said students might not feel an impact yet because many of the strikers' jobs involve behind-the-scenes paperwork.

"The second [the paperwork] piles up, it's just a landslide," Karkula said. "It's only the first day" of the strike.

Sophomore Lauren Siegel said one of her professors lectured briefly about the strike Wednesday morning in her pop culture and politics class. A teaching assistant in the class told students she might hold next week's discussion off campus in solidarity with the striking workers.

Some immediate effects

Some areas felt an immediate impact of the strike. The university closed the bursar's offices on the West Bank and the St. Paul campus. Students could deposit tuition payments in drop boxes or go to the East Bank location.

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