American University in Washington, DC faces staff strike after contract negotiations with union collapse

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Hundreds of staff members at American University in Washington D.C. went on strike Monday after contract negotiations reached a dead end. 

Service Employees International Union Local 500 have been the chief negotiator for workers’ contracts since May 2021, representing more than 500 academic, technical, and clerical staff members on campus. Union representatives and the university’s administration failed to reach an agreement as workers complained about low wages and insufficient healthcare. 

“Over almost two years of bargaining, the union has made multiple proposals around wages and equitable pay structures,” said the union’s president, Pia Morrison, in a statement to NPR. “The administration’s choice to walk away from negotiations and refuse to meet over the weekend gives staff little choice but to strike.”

Negotiations between the two parties broke down last week. Union representatives claim the university did properly match their concessions, while the school says the union rejected their final offer. Over 90% of the staff union members voted earlier this month to go on strike for at least five days if the contract negotiations were to fail. 

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The impasse that stalled the negotiations appears to be over wages, with staffers demanding a 5% raise for first-year contracts with a 4% raise in the following year. Moreover, they want a guaranteed minimum pay of $40,000 a year for full-time employees and annual raises for part-time staff, according to the Washington Post. 

The university is willing to offer a 2.5% wage increase and a 1.5% bonus based on performance. Previously, the union has accused American of violating labor laws in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board

Meanwhile, the university’s president Sylvia M. Burwell said administrators made reasonable agreements and concessions regarding contract provision in the past.

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“With our deep dependence on tuition, we must be thoughtful stewards of our resources,” Burwell told The Post. “If we want to continue our focus on affordability, further our commitment to research and learning, and invest in our people, we must carefully balance the best use of our available resources in each area. But it also means we can’t do everything in every area.”

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