Survey criticizes UW's LTE policy

By Ben Sykes


UW-Madison employment policies fell under criticism from student labor groups Wednesday following the release of survey results that accuse the university of misusing limited-term employees. University officials maintained they are being consistent with state law.

The study reports that two-thirds of the positions surveyed were long-term, ongoing positions. Student Labor Action Coalition member C.J. Wilson said this allows student labor groups the quantitative evidence needed to lobby the university for better labor practices.

"There was a lot of anecdotal evidence [of LTE abuse] and we wanted something more," Wilson said. "SLAC is working with another coalition to get the university to sign and implement the Code of Conduct on Quality Jobs."

The emphasis of the code, Wilson said, would be "to get employees ... placed as permanent workers."

Limited-term employees work fewer than 1,044 hours per year and do not qualify for vacation time, sick leave or tenure. They are also ineligible for the same health care plans as full-time employees. Each month the university employs approximately 1,200 LTEs in job positions ranging from athletic trainers to janitors.

The study was designed by Paul Lachlier, a former graduate student of the Department of Sociology, and conducted by the University of Wisconsin Federation of Labor. More than 402 LTEs were interviewed between February and July 1999.

UWFL concluded from the survey that the university uses the LTE classification "to save money and to cover budget shortfalls in departments" using it to fill "what could and should be permanent positions."

UW-Madison Vice Chancellor for Administration John Torphy said he disagreed with the findings of the survey, asserting that the university is in accordance with state statutes and is attempting to decrease the number of short-term staff.

"75 percent of the LTEs work less than 600 hours and by law they cannot become permanent

employees. We try and use LTEs in an appropriate way and consistent with state law," he said. "The number of LTEs has declined over the last few years and continues to decline. It's down to 1,200, and four years ago it was up around [1,700 or 1,800]."

Torphy added that with such a large number of employees, a few LTEs could be incorrectly classified.

"Do I think there is one or two instances [of misuse] out of 1,200? Sure," he said. "But if people will identify where LTEs are being misused, we will investigate."

Problems arise when limited-term positions are made permanent because the previous workers would then compete for the job among a pool of other applicants instead of being automatically reappointed, Torphy said.

Recognition for employees affected by any action resulting from the survey is the real issue, according to Wilson.

"It has a lot to do with recognizing the employees for their work. They really make a significant difference in our community," she said.

The SLAC is holding a teach-in at 7 p.m. tonight focusing on workers' rights in room 2115 of the Humanities Building, Wilson said.

"We're going to do a lot of publicity on this," he said.

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Student Labor Action Coalition, Madison, WI