By Jon Gambrell
OXFORD - Under the American flag on the front lawn of Miami University's administration building, Local 209 union president Randy Marcum began a hunger strike Monday to draw attention to a salary dispute between the university and its support staff.
Friday, the university offered American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 209 a plan to include 4.25 percent raises for the roughly 900 workers in the bargaining unit. The most recent contract between the union and Miami expired on Aug. 15.
The union officially votes on the proposal today.
Marcum said the it wouldn't accept the offer, however, saying the proposal wouldn't affect starting wages, which are the lowest among Ohio universities.
AFSCME Local 209 represents more than 800 workers at the university, mostly custodial and food service workers.
"We have people starting at $7.73 (an hour) trying to feed a family," he said. "It doesn't matter how good the benefits are or not, especially if a person is working from paycheck to paycheck. That's the one thing about Miami, they are an equal-opportunities employer. They equally underpay everyone."
Richard Little, a spokesman for the university, called Marcum's hunger strike "typical union tactics."
"The university put a substantial offer on the table, but the union hasn't moved on it," he said. "The university has been quite willing to negotiate."
Marcum, who began his hunger strike at noon, says he will remain on campus 24 hours a day for roughly the next week, drinking only fluids. He plans to sleep in a cot in front of Miami's Roudebush Hall at night, and to talk to students and faculty by day.
A Republican, Marcum wants the community to know the current dispute with Miami isn't a "left-wing attack," rather a human-rights crisis. He said roughly 20 percent of his bargaining unit is on government assistance.
The university won't interfere with Marcum's one-man protest, Little said, as long as the union president remains on public portions of the grounds.
Student reaction was mixed on Marcum's hunger strike. Some believed it was foolhardy, while others commended his commitment.
"It is ridiculous that Miami workers would need government assistance to get by," said Dave Slowik, a senior management major. "But it is hard to believe Miami would lay their guns down now, even with the hunger strike."
Union and fair-labor advocates plan a protest at Miami's Cook Field 8-11:30 p.m. Thursday night.
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