Laid off clerical worker fights back

Nancy Wiswell has worked for the University for 39 years and isn’t ready to give up her job without a fight.

James Nord

Students know Nancy Wiswell as the smiling face of the University of Minnesota School of Music , but the 39-year veteran clerical worker may not be there to raise spirits for much longer. The School of Music laid off Wiswell in an attempt to balance the budget, Director David Myers said, but the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 union plans to fight the University over what they consider an unfair layoff. âÄúI feel like itâÄôs my family,âÄù Wiswell said. âÄúThatâÄôs a strange thing to say about a job, but IâÄôve been in so many of facultyâÄôs homes. IâÄôve been on picnics with their children âĦ I guess I am hurt more than anything else because IâÄôve been here 39 years.âÄù AFSCME 3800 President Phyllis Walker believes that Wiswell was laid off due to age discrimination. âÄúThere is a new [director] âĦ in the School of Music and heâÄôs the one who has made this decision to eliminate NancyâÄôs position,âÄù Walker said. However, Myers said the decision was not personal, and was only meant to ensure quality music education instruction while freeing up needed funds. âÄúI can assure you that we have cut the budget in many other ways,âÄù Myers said. âÄúWeâÄôve cut instruction, weâÄôve cut adjunct faculty, and the major portion of the budget cuts has been in instruction âĦ so actually this position cut is a small percentage of our overall cut,âÄù Myers said. Students for a Democratic Society and AFSCME 3800 joined to form the âÄúChop from the TopâÄù Coalition for WiswellâÄôs benefit in order to put pressure on the University to cut administrative salaries. AFSCME 3800 Chief Steward Cherrene Horazuk and Wiswell have also filed a grievance against the University under AFSCMEâÄôs contract in order to formally fight the layoff. âÄúNancy is a very strong, very hardworking, very brave clerical worker and she has decided to stand up to this,âÄù Walker said. âÄúWeâÄôre out here getting petitions signed, saying, âÄòput Nancy back to work.âÄôâÄù The coalition staged small demonstrations outside of Ferguson Hall last Thursday and Friday and gathered signatures from students and faculty in support of Wiswell. There are also rallies planned for this week. âÄúItâÄôs something thatâÄôs totally fixable, if we start standing up,âÄù SDS member Tracy Molm said. Piano performance senior Kathryn Brown has known Wiswell as a smiling face in an otherwise reserved department since her freshman year. âÄúI could not believe it. I was just âĦ so mad at the U of M that they could possibly take somebody with 39 years of experience and such a good attitude and someone whoâÄôs got such rapport with the students and just let her go so rudely,âÄù Brown said. Walker is fighting to place her in a vacant position, but Myers said that the provost hasnâÄôt approved it yet. However, Molm criticizes what she views as the underlying causes of WiswellâÄôs woes. âÄúItâÄôs also part of the larger problem of the University going after âĦ frontline staff, instead of looking where thereâÄôs actual excess and pork to be chopped [from the directorâÄôs salary],âÄù Molm said. When asked about taking a pay cut for WiswellâÄôs benefit, Myers said the question was irrelevant. WiswellâÄôs last day is Oct. 8, but those in the âÄúChop from the TopâÄù coalition are convinced they can mount a successful campaign for their friend. âÄúIt couldnâÄôt have come at a worse time because I have three people at home that are unemployed,âÄù Wiswell said.