Dozens rally in support of laid-off U employee

by Paul Sand

Nearly three dozen union members and supporters rallied Wednesday in front of McNeal Hall in support of Bernetta Kambeitz, a College of Human Ecology administrative specialist who said she was laid off 10 months before her retirement.

A 22-year University employee, Kambeitz said she was laid off Sept. 20 with no prior warning. She said the department recommended staff restructuring, and her job was eliminated.

“I think it’s terrible the way she’s been treated,” said Mary Fladmark, Kambeitz’s sister.

Justin Grussing, Kambeitz’s supervisor and associate facilities director in the College of Human Ecology, would not comment about the layoff.

College Dean Shirley Baugher also would not comment but said she supported the union’s right to protest.

Phyllis Walker, president of the University of Minnesota Clerical Workers, AFSCME Local 3800, said the University should spend money to retain the employees such as Kambeitz that manage day-to-day operations.

Walker stressed the importance of clerical workers’ roles in University departments. She said the workers act as a front line contact with students, employees and faculty.

“It’s time for the U to stop balancing their budgets on our backs and pay us for the work that we do,” Walker said.

Kambeitz said the relationship between her and Grussing became strained in June, after Grussing told her she wasn’t working fast enough. Kambeitz said she requested a faster computer, but the college’s technical team said that wasn’t possible. The incident, Kambeitz said, ended in a verbal confrontation between her and Grussing.

Since then, Kambeitz said the office had “a very toxic environment.”

Because she was laid off before her retirement, Kambeitz said, she will lose between $200 and $250 per month in Social Security and Minnesota state retirement benefits. With an annual salary of only $27,000, she said, $200 per month has a large impact.

“It’s going to be tough,” she said.

Rita McDonald, a sister in the St. Joseph Carondelet order where Kambeitz had been a nun, told the crowd she was tired of how the University mistreats older employees.

“It’s disgusting how they try to get rid of those of a certain age Ö it burns me right to the core,” she said.

J. Burger, an organizer with the clerical workers union, said the University’s priorities are misplaced.

“They have millions to spend on buildings, but they are forgetting the people who make it run,” he said.

Paul Sand welcomes comments at [email protected]