American University employees prepare for wage strike

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Hundreds of American University workers plan to go on strike next week if negotiations with the DC school over wages and health insurance benefits don’t result in a deal.

Americans and a union representing about 550 white-collar, technical and academic staff have drawn up a work Agreement for more than a year. While they’ve made strides on issues like job security, they’re at odds over pay increases, said Sam Sadow, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union Local 500, the union that represents employees.

“We want AU to live up to its values ​​and invest in its people,” said Sadow, American’s visual resources curator. “We hope the university will come by, but we stand ready to take action.”

The pandemic led to higher demands from university workers for fair wages and job security. Formed in November 2020, American’s staff union rode this wave of worker activism, organizing at campuses across the country. Now the group is willing to give up the job so the university can take their demands seriously.

Union leaders have filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing American of violating labor laws by barring its members from annual performance-related pay increases. Salary increases are part of ongoing negotiations and cannot be made unilaterally until a contractual agreement is reached.

After the dispute, the staff union voted in favor of a permit last week strike of up to five days if a contract agreement is not secured by August 22, when students move to campus.

Talks between the university and the union are expected to continue on Thursday.

University spokesman Matthew Bennett said American is continuing to negotiate in good faith with the staff union and is optimistic that a resolution can be reached.

“We have resolved numerous issues for this first contract and continue to offer suggestions on the outstanding issues,” Bennett said in a statement. “A strike is not an inevitable outcome and American University is committed to reaching a final settlement.”

Despite this, Bennet said the university stands ready to fully support students as they return to campus and to continue operations and activities with minimal disruption.

The staff union is raising money for a strike hardship fund to reduce the economic impact on members. The effort has more than yielded $13,000 so far, according to the GoFundMe page.

A major bone of contention between the union and the university is wage equity. The employees want a salary increase of 5 percent in the first year of the contract and a salary increase of 4 percent in the second year. They want the university to extend annual salary increases to part-time employees and ensure that no full-time employee earns less than $40,000 a year.

“To retain employees and provide top-notch student and faculty service, we all have to lift up,” said Amanda Kleinman, union member and academic trainer at American.

Kleinman, who has worked at the university since 2018, said she has seen many staff turnover and colleagues commuting more than 90 minutes to work because they cannot afford to live anywhere nearby. To avoid a long commute, Kleinman said she lives in a DC group home, the cheapest option for her salary.

“I love AU. Students and faculty are politically minded and engaged in their community,” she said. “The staff I’ve come to know and love – I don’t want to go to happy hour anymore.”

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