LTE labor practices unacceptable to long-term workers

By Kate McCormack

article from The Daily Cardinal, April 5, 2002

There are workers on the Madison campus who perform the same jobs as state employees but are paid less, receive no sick pay, vacation time, retirement savings plans or health insurance. This appears to be discrimination, but these workers are actually part of a typical hiring system. They are limited term employees.

In addition to receiving no benefits, LTEs have no job security and can be fired without notice. They are also prohibited by state law from collectively bargaining, which leaves them no recourse when abuse occurs. LTE positions are used as both a cost-cutting and hassle-cutting plan.

LTEs are the most vulnerable and commonly misused divisions, not only of the UW System, but also across the state. They are hired to fill temporary positions meant to be no more than 1,043 hours, or 6 months, of full-time work per year. In reality, LTEs are fired and rehired for the same positions year after year. Positions are renamed and altered slightly to maintain the limited status.

At UW-Madison, as many as 300 LTEs have been holding the same "temporary" positions for five, 10 or even 20 years. Ten to 20 years with no vacation time, insurance or sick leave, and when they retire, no savings.

LTE positions are only relatively useful for people who want a temporary job for the summer. Many LTEs are workers who simply needed to pay bills, but were unable to find permanent work. For many people, the decision to take an LTE position mirrors the catch-22 attributed to worker's in sweatshops in other countries?a forced decision based on a lack of options. When workers are forced to take undesirable jobs with no chance of advancement, the system is flawed with power tipped to one side.

The UW System and Wisconsin Legislature, with student prompting, began taking small steps to improve the situation and to end LTE abuse. A July 2001 budget provision created a board with the authority to convert up to 50 long-term LTE positions to full-time classified civil service positions. However, much more needs to be done.

There are many more positions which need to be converted. Once an LTE, it is difficult to become a permanent employee because the position must first be opened up to any state worker, then posted on the Web and advertised in the newspaper, and a test and interviews must be conducted. In the end, the LTE may end up losing his or her position altogether to a new person.

One clear example of the ambiguities surrounding the conversion and unnecessary use of LTEs is occurring at the unions. Under the new legislation, Memorial Union was allotted six positions for LTE conversions. So far, only one position has been filled despite 25 qualified LTEs currently working. The Union is not only dragging its feet in making changes but has allowed two regular positions in the kitchen and on the custodial staff to remain empty for months. To allow classified positions to remain empty while many qualified workers remain under temporary status is a blatant misuse of an already entrapping system. The Union needs to begin respecting the rights of LTEs and of labor in general.

The LTE system is a misleading, entrapping system used to deny workers of their rights and ensure the availability of cheap labor. LTEs are deserving of the same rights as all workers, particularly those of collective bargaining. A temporary employee should not be a voiceless employee.

Kate McCormack is a sophomore majoring in international studies and psychology.

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