(scanned in and might have a few odd typos)
From Madison, WI Isthmus, June 22, 2001
Ashman, on the outside: "I feel angry and betrayed"
photo by MARY LANGENFELD
Still temporary after all these years
Concerns surface about alleged LTE abuse at the UW-Madison
By Sarah Turner
Wanda Ashman is fed up. For nearly nine years, she has been employed "in training" as a computer code writer for the UW-Madison College of Agriculture. She says the UW and state are being dishonest and irresponsible by not properly classifying her and others like her as permanent employees: I definitely feel angry and betrayed"
Ashman is one of 12,000 state workers considered limited-term employees, or LTEs. Members of the Student and Labor Action Coalition and AFSCME Local 171, which represents UW employees, are pressuring the state Legislature to introduce a bill to end what they consider LTE abuse, and allow employees who work the same jobs year after year to get regular jobs along with the benefits they entail.
Legislation now being drafted by Rep. Mark Pocan would require that any individual who has worked a total of six or more months for the state within a two year period be considered a permanent employee in terms of benefits, sick leave, paid holidays and advancement. "The system is basically abusing the workers that are oftentimes the lower-paid workers," says Pocan. "People are staying in the system for a long period of time, but they are not getting the benefits, that is not fair."
According to Wisconsin law, LTEs are supposed to be hired to fill a temporary position of no more than 1.043 hours, or six months of full-time work. Many employers get around this restriction by requiring LTEs to reapply for essentially the same lob every six months. In some cases, like Ashman's, the arrangement can continue for five years or more. The union says there are even a few UW workers who have been employed as LTEs for over 20 years.
LTEs do not receive such benefits of full time employment as health care, paid vacation or sick days, and retirement savings. They are generally paid less than regular full time workers, even if they do essentially the same jobs. They have no job security. And, under state law, temporary employees are prohibited from collective bargaining.
"This is a violation and a scam for the university to classify them as temporary when it is really permanent work," says Anne Habel, a Local171 union steward. "That's the issue."
Habel says the union is not against the legitimate use of LTEs for jobs that are truly temporary But She thinks abuse of the classification is widespread. And she says UW administrators have been unresponsive to situations in which abuses have been called to their attention.
"We've tried a number of different tactics," says Habel. We used to report what we saw all the time as violations of the law and, of course, they just laughed at us, so we stopped doing that."
John Torphy, UW vice chancellor of administration, is adamant that LTE mis- classification Is not a problem at the UW, which employs just over 1,200 LTEs, He says LTEs are monitored to ensure that no one exceeds the 1,043-hour limit for temporary employment. But he notes that employees can work half-time on a permanent basis as limited-term employees: "That's perfectly fine, There's nothing to prohibit somebody from [working] one hour less than half time year after year after year"
But there is reason to question whether UW administrators are hearing about cases in which LTEs are being used improperly. Early this year, at a dinner for UW student leaders, UW Chancellor John Wiley was asked what he would do about the problem, of misclassified university LTEs. Wiley replied he would "take care of the problem." Asked if that meant properly classifying the employees or firing them, he replied, "They should be fired."
When Wanda Ashman asked if her position could be made permanent, she says her supervisors informed her that "somebody else could take your job." When she turned to the UW Employee Assistance program, she says she was told to just quit. But Ashman doesn't want to do that; she likes her job and considers her work important.
An artist who loves computer coding, Ashman was asked to encode College of Agriculture requirements into a computer program than helps students figure out how many credits they need to graduate. "I feel like this program is my baby," she says, "I set up everything." In other departments, she says, the kind of coding she does Is done by deans.
Ashman is now able to afford health insurance because she has two LTE positions. When she had just one LTE job, she says she was paying more than half her $400/month salary for health coverage. She has scraped by through shopping at thrift stores and cooking from scratch. Still, she says with a sigh, "I am 52 years old, and I don't have any kind of retirement"
State Rep. Marlin Schneider, a Democrat, has made his own attempt to solve this 20-year dilemma. He has introduced a bill, AB 181, that would allow LTEs around testate to be represented by the union. "They're getting screwed, and the state should~ be setting an example for other employers," he says. However, supporters of the bill have run up against a wall.
Rep. Jean Hundertmark, the Republican chair of the Assembly Labor and Workforce Development Committee, is declining to hold a hearing on Schneider's bill. Although she agrees that "the state may be abusing its LTE . classification system," Hundertmark recently told proponents that there was not enough popular support.
In the state Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Chvala agrees there's a problem. "1 believe that there are instances where the LTE sys- tem has been abused," he says. "Long-term employees have been denied benefits like health insurance by being continually shifted from one LTE position to another, instead of being hired on a full-time basis"
Torphy says the UW is open to a legislative fix. He notes that legislation was drafted in 1994 concerning LTEs, but never passed. "We made a whole series of recommendations which the university agrees with for charges relative to limited-term employees," he says "It was turned Into legislation, and It's never been passed. The reality is that somebody wants to introduce legislation, "I would be happy to go down and testify in favor of it, and the university is in favor of it."
For workers like Ashman, change cannot come soon enough. "All these years, I've tried to do a good job and do the right things for students, and I've done a lot of things above and beyond my job duties" she says. "It's a sorry thing indeed that a well-respected university doesn't treat its workers with honesty or decency".