Unionized U of M Service Workers to Rally Over Wages
Centennial Hall dormitory, the site of an upcoming “practice picket.” Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota

Unionized U of M Service Workers to Rally Over Wages

Hundreds of Teamsters Local 320 members will stage a “practice picket” on Tuesday, coinciding with the first days of student move-in.

While many Minnesotans pay close attention to a potential nurses strike in the days ahead, a smaller group of front-line workers on Tuesday aims to raise awareness about labor concerns at the University of Minnesota.

On Tuesday, 1,500 members of the Teamsters Local 320 union plan to hold a rally outside the Centennial Hall student housing complex in Minneapolis. Described as a “practice picket,” the event isn’t a formal strike; instead, it’s designed to draw attention to workers’ concerns about wages, discrimination, and environmental issues at the university.

The event intentionally coincides with the first few move-in days for students.

The group covers a range of service positions at the U, including custodians, dining workers, mechanics, research attendants, and gardeners, according to Teamsters.

The union hasn’t even taken a formal strike vote yet, but “if negotiations do not improve, it is anticipated that a vote will be taken in the coming weeks,” a spokeswoman for Teamsters said in an email.

Teamsters leaders say that the U is providing “poverty wages” and not adjusting compensation with inflation. The union cited a May 2022 financial presentation from the university showing that about 74 percent of the school’s employees are paid “below market” wages.

According to the union’s own survey, more than half of workers said they couldn’t earn enough money to cover their monthly expenses. About 9 percent of workers experienced homelessness at least one time while working for the university, according to the union.

“Dozens” of elected officials are slated to appear at Tuesday’s event, including Rep. Melissa Hortman, a DFLer who serves as Minnesota House Speaker.

When reached for comment, a U of M representative said the university’s leadership “values the work of Teamsters 320 members, and we hope to quickly reach an agreement that will allow us to attract, retain, and engage a diverse workforce. … As part of the contract negotiation process, union members and representatives have the right to express their views through public demonstrations. The university anticipates demonstrations will be peaceful, as they have been in the past.”