Union continues strike after rejecting university's 4% salary increase

Academic Affairs staff at American University began the fall semester with a picket line to demand the university issue ‘living wages.’

The strike continues ongoing negotiations between the union and the university, in which the union rejected a 4% salary increase proposed by the university.

On Monday, hundreds of American University (AU) staff in Washington, D.C. joined the picket line to continue a strike led by the AU chapter of SEIU Local 500. The picketers protested over working conditions and wages. 

The strike, which began in May, will continue into the fall semester after the union rejected a “4  percent salary increase” proposed by the university.

“While we appreciate recent movement in negotiations and received the most productive offer we’ve seen in months- it happened because we are willing to take action,” the union announced in an Aug. 11 Twitter post. “But we are holding firm.”

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The salary increase consisted of a 2.5% increase for Academic Affairs staff members as well as a 1.5% performance bonus. According to the university, the offer was “in line” with pay increases provided to other members of the faculty this year.

The union, however, argued that the terms were unacceptable, as Academic Affairs staff “deserve a living wage and real pay equity.”

“[W]e will keep fighting for the wages we deserve,” the post continued, “wages that don’t leave us all falling behind in our pay bands and relying on their unpredictable merit pool just to break even.”

AU President Sylvia Burwell wrote in an announcement to the campus community that the administration has to weigh increased compensation with the budgetary needs of the university. Burwell cited “uncertain economic times” and a commitment to tuition affordability as reluctance to increase the offer.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Burwell raked in more than $1 million in compensation in 2019.

AU Staff union tweeted a video and photos of the picket line throughout the event, including a video of organizers chanting, “Our contract, our future, our union.”

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According to an Aug. 19 memorandum issued by university officials, the groups have engaged in over 30 bargaining sessions since May. 

The sessions resulted in non-compensation agreements including “a ‘just cause’ standard for all disciplinary actions; a grievance process with appeals to outside arbitration; a joint labor-management committee for ongoing dialogue; a revised reporting system for health and safety concerns; a process to ensure newly hired employees do not receive a higher salary than current employees for the same work; and enhancements to the annual leave benefit.”

Sandra Rodriguez, Associate Director of Communications & Media, provided Campus Reform with a prepared statement:

“Despite [the negotiation] progress, the union rejected our best and final offer and intends to strike during this important week for our students and families. A principle for the university is to fairly address specific concerns of unit members and resolve issues in an equitable manner for staff both inside and outside the bargaining unit. While it is unfortunate that the union chose to strike, American University is supporting our students as they return to campus, move in to our residence halls, and begin classes.”

The statement continued, “American University respects the right of employees to organize to form a union and to engage in related protected activity in accordance with applicable law. We look forward to welcoming our students and addressing any potential impacts as this process moves forward.”

The on-campus strike is scheduled to continue through Aug. 26, coinciding with the university Welcome Week and student move-in. Classes are scheduled to begin on Aug. 29. 

Campus Reform contacted AU, the union, and SEIU for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

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