The Daily Cardinal - Opinion
Issue: 09/16/02

UW guilty of wage, labor exploitation

By Youssef Sawan

What is an LTE? Well, most would tell you "limited-term employee," however, after asking around a little you will quickly realize that it would be better said "long-term exploitation."

As a LTE, you don't have any benefits, no union protection and are subjected to poverty wages. Currently the UW System has been using this classification to save millions of dollars on labor.

The state of Wisconsin has been using LTEs extensively in the past, and the purpose is to provide positions which may either be seasonal or in the case of the UW System, for students. Supposedly an LTE works for only six months and then gets replaced or switched to a permanent position. UW-Madison has been notorious for getting around this by renaming the same position and rehiring the same person.

AFSCME Local 171 is the local labor union representing 1,500 blue collar, technical, law enforcement and security workers on campus. According to their reports, there are about 500 LTEs on campus doing the same work as those represented by Local 171. For many years, they have been working closely with the Student Labor Action Coalition to address this problem of LTE slavery on campus. In total the university employs about 1,200 LTEs.

In the last state budget, the legislature finally responded to public pressure and passed legislation to force the university to convert 50 LTEs into permanent classified positions. This was successful, and actually 55 persons were affected.

The trouble lately is coming from Memorial Union. They agreed to convert six positions last year, which did happen. Mark Thomas, President of AFSCME Local 171, explained that while converting the positions three other classified jobs, two custodians and a cook, where eliminated.

Memorial Union currently employs 52 percent of its workforce as LTEs. Now, as the 75th Anniversary approaches, I'm pretty sure it isn't a "temporary" building, so why so many LTEs?

Then there's the issue of diversity. As proud as our administration is of promoting diversity and working for Plan 2008, the current situation in the workforce does not look good. In Memorial Union, there are 17 people of color working in permanent positions, while 40 are in LTE positions. That's more than twice as many people of color working as LTEs.

The Memorial Union has also found trouble getting a more diverse management staff. In the past five years, a Director, Food Service Director, Catering Director and Kitchen Production Manager were hired, none of which are people of color. This lack of diversity mocks all the work that the university has been putting into creating a more diverse environment.

We also need to keep in mind that the Memorial Union receives $120 of your money per year, which amounts to $5 million per year. As a student this bothers me greatly. We mustn't sit back while our money is used to pay LTEs poverty wages and Chancellor Wiley a quarter of a million dollars a year. There are LTEs who have been working in Memorial Union for over a year and still making only $7 an hour.

LTE slavery is a problem all over campus. Last year, a woman who had been working as a DARS encoder in the College of Agriculture" blew the whistle" revealing her story to The Isthmus. She had been working for nine years as an LTE with no benefits, no union protection and at poverty wages. After the article was published, she was fired. Currently she is back working as a DARS encoder for Letters and Science, still an LTE.

The exploitation of LTEs on campus continues and the university is not making any effort to change that. Most administrators continue to deny that there is any problem with LTEs on campus. Well, AFSCME Local 171 and SLAC have been working with this issue for many years, and there are hundreds who have been working there for over a year, and many who have been there for the past 10-20 years.

On Wednesday, Sept. 18, AFSCME Local 171 will be holding a rally at 5:30 p.m. in front of the Memorial Union to let the administrators know that we won't let this type of exploitation continue. I hope that students come out and join in solidarity. After all, it's your $120 that is being misused.

Youssef Sawan is a sophomore majoring in sociology. His column appears every other Monday in The Daily Cardinal.

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