MARQUETTE - The corner of Sugarloaf Avenue and Wright Street was crowded with picketers Monday afternoon as mediation between Northern Michigan University administration and the university's United Auto Workers Local 1950 union got under way.
"We are continuing to try to show that other groups on campus and members of the public understand where we're coming from," said Michelle Kimball, president of UAW Local 1950, during a lunch break from mediation. "I feel like we are the weak group and the university is this big Goliath."
UAW Local 1950 represents clerical and technical workers. They have been in negotiations with Northern's administration since July 2011.
Members of several local unions participated in an informational picket on the corner of Sugarloaf Avenue and Wright Street in support of Northern Michigan University’s United Auto Workers Local 1950. The union began mediating Monday with the university. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Members of UAW Local 1950 picketed on their lunch breaks along with members of other NMU unions, including the American Association of University Professors NMU chapter, which recently ratified its own three-year contract with the university that calls for pay increases as well as an increase in the cost of health insurance to its members.
One of the biggest sticking points for Kimball and her union members is the university's request that they pay an increase in the percentage of their health care costs.
The group overwhelmingly voted down the last proposal - which was brought to them in early August - by 114 to 11. That proposal included an increase in their health care costs.
Kimball said the requested increase, when combined with the wage increase also offered, equals a 34 cent per hour reduction in pay for Local 1950 members, some of whom are the lowest paid union members on campus.
However, Kimball said she wanted to stress that the skyrocketing cost of health care is something Northern's administration has little control over.
"The state of health insurance in this country is not the university's fault," Kimball said. "This is a nationwide issue and it needs to be addressed."
NMU Communications and Marketing Director Cindy Paavola said it is the administration's hope that a contract can be agreed upon soon.
"Contract negotiations have been going on for quite a while and they've held a number of informational pickets throughout the summer and over the fall semester," Paavola said. "There are a lot of big issues with a lot of complex components to them, but the administration would certainly like to see a settlement that is agreeable to both sides happen in the very near future."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.