from The Badger Herald, Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Referendum could limit funds

by John Potratz

Vying for University of Wisconsin employees to earn "livable" wages, the Student Labor Action Coalition announced Tuesday it has introduced a referendum on the Associated Students of Madison ballot obligating the organization to require certain university services and programs to pay their employees above the minimum wage.

To be voted on Oct. 11-13, the referendum would prohibit the Student Services Finance Committee - the financial branch of ASM - from allocating auxiliary funds to various services on campus unless the programs are found to pay all of their employees "slightly above" $10 per hour.

Services cited in the referendum include the Memorial Union, Union South, University Health Services and Recreational Sports - including the Natatorium, the Southeast Recreational Facility and the Shell.

The referendum is an attempt to combat recent university hiring trends where limited-term employees (LTEs) are employed to replace positions formerly held by classified staff - unionized workers - who normally get paid higher wages.

"In recent years, these [services] employed more and more LTEs," SLAC member Ashok Kumar said. "They do the same work, but they get paid much less."

By committing to these policies, Kumar said the Wisconsin Union, recreational sports and UHS are able to pay workers less money with little to no benefits as a sort of "union-buster," adding they collectively receive $16 to $17 million per year in auxiliary funding.

"There are LTEs with families of four trying to support their families," he said. "If this passes, students are saying we won't give [the various university services] a cent unless they do that."

While only accounting for a fraction of their total budgets, the services mentioned in the referendum rely on a portion of student segregated funding, or auxiliary funding, for certain budget expenditures.

To be allocated auxiliary funding, the services must propose their budgets to the SSFC, which then recommends potential cuts, if any, to the UW Board of Regents and Chancellor Wiley. If the SLAC referendum passes, SSFC will be prohibited from hearing any auxiliary-funding proposals from the specific services at all.

Yet the specific details of how the referendum would play out in practice remain uncertain.

"If it changed in the bylaws and the groups didn't comply with it … I'm not exactly sure what would happen," SSFC representative Eric Saar said. "I don't know what the chancellor would do."

Taken aback by the referendum, Saar said SSFC doesn't have direct power to deny the various services anyway, adding the referendum might only succeed in limiting the committee's oversight.

"All we can do is make recommendations to the Board of Regents and the chancellor," he said. "It sounds like it would completely take auxiliaries out of our hands."

ASM Chair Eric Varney said the referendum is "questionable" and does not have the student council's support.

"I don't understand how this policy can work," Varney said. "This bylaw would not allow SSFC to even look [at] or consider their budget."

Varney added SLAC's goals could have been better achieved through the council.

"ASM does not endorse this referendum," he said. "I think they're making things messier than they have to be. … I think there's better ways of doing this."

But Memorial Union Food Service worker and union member Carl Aniel said despite many efforts to enforce unionized work-employment policies, the union administrators continue to hire LTEs to meet their "bottom line."

"We've been approaching the [Memorial Union] administration about this for years, trying to get them to do the right thing," he said. "And they refuse at every turn."

Kumar said the referendum must be passed to ensure all employees, students and LTEs are receiving adequate and "livable" wages.

"It will be huge for workers," he said. "Students are using their leveraging power - the one power we have."

SLAC index page

Recent Activities page

LTE, Living Wage page