Latest Solidarity Issue

Fierce fight at Northern Michigan University preserves health care

02/14/13

Northern IMichigan University informational picket
Northern Michigan University clerical workers held many informational pickets during their lunch break last year.  

By Sandra Davis Dortch  

If members of UAW Local 1950 at Northern Michigan University (NMU) had not fought so fiercely, Michelle Kimball would have no health insurance coverage today. 

Neither would some of the other clerical workers at the university in Marquette, Mich., who were looking at how to afford to pay 20 percent of their health care when they only made $9.82 an hour.

“It would have been devastating, for that is what I would have had to do,” said Kimball, Local 1950 president. “I would have been one of those people who would have had to walk into the human resources office and give up my health care.”

The local represents 151 members at the four-year public university in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Fortunately, perseverance and the right to bargain collectively paid off for Kimball and other clerical workers and technicians represented by the UAW. Following months of negotiations, lunch-hour informational pickets, support from students, faculty and other unions at the university, Local 1950 members ratified an agreement Dec. 5. The university’s board of trustees approved the contract Dec. 14.

The three-year agreement gives union members a $0.25 per hour base increase, including an additional $0.10 increase for the lowest paid employees at each classification level. The contract also includes one-time payments to union members of $300 and $200, in contract years 2013 and 2014, respectively.

“It was a huge win for us because it certainly made it possible for us to face the increase in health care without being totally devastated,” said Kimball.

“There was a lot of hard work involved here,” said UAW Region 1D Director Gerald Kariem. “This fight was directly related to the attacks on working families we have seen in Michigan from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-led Legislature in this state.”

In September 2011, Snyder signed legislation mandating that Michigan’s public sector employees pay at least 20 percent of their health care costs.

“Here are hard-working people who would have been forced to give up their health care if there had not been a union to negotiate something within reason,” Kariem said.

The lowest paid clerical workers would have been forced to spend about 25 percent of their wages, or $3,300 a year, for health care coverage.

“That is a huge bite,” Kimball said. “It was certainly a fight, but in the end it was worth it. We did not take concessions, and we did not go backward.”

“The state of health insurance in this country is not the university’s fault,” she added. “This is a nationwide issue, and it needs to be addressed. The fact is that when you are in a union, you can sit at the table and negotiate an agreement that works.”

Other unions at the university include UAW Local 2178, which represents 178 administrative/professional workers. The local ratified a new three-year agreement in October in a 106-6 vote. NMU’s Board of Directors approved that contract Nov. 1.

The agreement includes base salary increases of 2 percent the first and third years, and 2.25 percent the second year.

There is also a $500 base increase for each employee in year one. The wage increases will also help workers adjust to a new health care plan that includes higher co-pays and annual deductibles.