Low-wage U of M workers skip sick days while Richard Pitino gets a $400,000 raise

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Cherrene Horazuk, president of clerical union AFSCME 3800, wants to narrow the gap between the University of Minnesota's highest paid administrators and front-line staff.

While the scientists focus on finding cures for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, Claire Thiele spends her days caring for the mice and monkeys that University of Minnesota researchers test new drugs on.

Many universities require their lab animal attendants to be certified for the job, but the U doesn't. Thiele, a political science grad, believes that has a lot to do with cutting costs. She and many of her co-workers in the Research Animal Resources lab work full-time for just less than $15 an hour. They're understaffed and underpaid.

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"We haven't received wages that really reflect the rising cost of living," Thiele says. "A lot of my co-workers have kids they have to take care of. A lot of them work second jobs and have to leave directly after this one. I myself can't afford a car, so even thinking about getting married and having kids is out of the question."

Thiele and a dozen other clerks, cooks, IT people, and custodians asked the Board of Regents on Friday to raise the U's minimum wage and to give workers paid sick time and family leave. They represent about 400 union members who make less than $15, many of whom couldn't take a long lunch to attend the board's budget hearing, union reps say.

Low-wage workers criticized the U for recently granting basketball coach Richard Pitino a $400,000 raise while front-line employees received a measly 2 percent hike. About 3,000 U employees earn at least $100,000 a year, while workers at the bottom say they are routinely late on their medical bills and can't afford to send their own kids to the U.

"Some say this is a business and corporate salaries for executives are a-ok," says Cherrene Horazuk, president of the clerical workers union. "This isn't Walmart or Target or US Bank. The university committed to cut $90 million in administration over the next few years. We know that they cut a few vice presidents and that's a start, but they also cut over 100 technical positions."

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