Professional and clerical workers at Augsburg University put the Minneapolis school on notice yesterday that they have organized a union with Local 12 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union.

In a letter delivered in person to the university president’s office, members of the Augsburg Staff Union called on President Paul Pribbenow to recognize their union voluntarily, without calling in a third party to slow down the collective-bargaining process.

“As a progressive institution in the community, we expect the Augsburg administration to walk the walk by voluntarily recognizing our union now that a majority of our staff have had the courage to come forward and request it,” said Maxwell Poessnecker, director of LGBTQ+ student services at the school and a member of the union’s organizing committee.

Pribbenow had left his office for the day when the union delegation arrived. Organizers said they would allow the administration one week to respond before escalating their drive for recognition.

The bargaining unit would bring together about 170 Augsburg staff members, “ranging from Admissions to IT,” OPEIU Local 12 said in a press release.

Outside Pribbenow’s office yesterday, supporters said they believe the goals and priorities guiding their organizing process are in step with the university’s values. Augsburg can live up to those values, Assistant Director for Transfer Admissions Kate Asfeld said, by voluntarily recognizing the union.

“Obviously, we’re all really passionate about serving the students that we work with and the greater Augsburg community,” Asfeld said. “One of the things that drove me to work at Augsburg was how it’s been a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I think this (organizing effort) is in line with that vision and mission of Augsburg.”

Inclusion should mean all stakeholders have a seat at the table in decisions affecting the Augsburg community. But that’s not how things currently work – and it shows, financial aid counselor Uriah Ward said.

“We’ve seen cuts in pay. We’ve seen low pay. We’ve seen consistently decreasing benefits, like health insurance and retirement. And there’s nothing we can do about it,” Ward said. “With a union we have the power to come together and actually advocate for ourselves.”

Additionally, union members hope collective bargaining will address racial and gender pay gaps, parental leave, advancement opportunities and tuition credits.

The union drive is over a year in the works, but Augsburg staff members said their campaign gained new urgency with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has colleges and universities bracing for budget shortfalls and higher-ed workers taking on new risks to serve their students.

“At the end of the day, our goal is to empower and protect our staff members, so we all have the ability to serve our students well,” Asfeld said.

The fledgling union is circulating a petition for students, faculty, alumni and members of the broader community to show their support for workers’ right to a voice on the job. Sign it here.

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