UW's labor policies unfair to limited-term employees

By Sarah Turner


Our university's use and abuse of limited-term employee labor has been a long-time source of irritation for local unions and students. As their title implies, LTEs are hired for a specific period of time, usually about six months. Designating an employee as a LTE is not problematic when the position is open for a few months. It is despicable, however, when the university hires someone to fill a full-time position but designates that employee as an LTE. These employees are required to reapply for essentially the same job every six months, and it is not uncommon for a university employee to be an LTE for five to 10 years.

University employees are protected by the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 171 union unless they are not permanent employees. Temporary employees are prohibited from joining AFSCME. Without union protection, LTEs do not enjoy any of the benefits from a collectively bargained union contract. Sadly, a disproportionate number of the people who the university compels to work as LTEs are women and people of color. LTEs are wrongfully denied benefits like health care, job security and higher pay received by classified state workers. Several unions and student organizations in Madison are angry about this injustice and are demanding that LTEs receive equal pay for equal work.

This anger has intensified recently due to the university's shady labor deal with the $24 million Fluno Center. Located on University Avenue, the Fluno Center for Executive Education is a 100-room conference/teaching facility built on university property for UW-Madison business students and some corporate clients. Instead of hiring full-time university employees who would be represented by AFSCME 171, the UW-Madison subcontracted out the service work to a private corporation called Aramark.

Even though Aramark is a $7 billion company, it is still vehemently anti-union, going to great lengths around the country to prevent its shops from becoming unionized. Its track record in abiding by labor law is atrocious. Jobs that would have had decent wages, benefits and collective bargaining are now low-pay, no-benefit positions. The university used to be a model community leader in the creation and support of quality, living-wage jobs. Now, as the university continues on a trend toward increased corporatization, both UW-Madison students and workers suffer.

Several unions and student organizations including the Teaching Assistants' Association, AFSCME, United Faculty and Academic Staff, Student Labor Action Coalition and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees have formed a student-labor alliance to reverse this trend toward increased university abuse of LTE labor and job subcontracting. Collectively, they have produced a Code of Conduct for Quality Jobs. This code would ensure that LTEs are properly classified as full-time permanent positions. Also, the code would place a moratorium on subcontracting university jobs, whereby community workers would be protected from private corporate abuse. According to the code of conduct, university jobs that are already under a subcontracting agreement would be protected by labor standards that would allow workers, such as those in the Fluno Center, to organize without fear or intimidation.

Students should be actively concerned about the unequal treatment of workers at our university. In a world-class higher-education institution that prides itself on excellence and modernity, no worker should be left behind. Our university advocates equal opportunity and fairness in educational standards, and its administrators should not continue to maintain the workplace inequities of substandard pay and no job security for its blue collar workers. The right to collective bargaining and equal pay is as important as any other basic human right. Without those rights powerful institutions trample on citizen liberties, and students are not immune from these abuses.

UW-Madison is a public facility that must accept its responsibility to take the moral high ground when it comes to issues involving community members. As a reflection of Wisconsin's great intellectual and progressive tradition, our new university chancellor, John Wiley, must bring UW-Madison out of the mud concerning labor rights. He has a great opportunity to close the rift created by Chancellor David Ward and improve relations between the university, students and Madison community members.

Sarah Turner is a senior majoring in sociology.

Editor's note: There will be a rally held outside the Fluno Center to show support for the Code of Conduct for Quality Jobs Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

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Student Labor Action Coalition, Madison, WI