Front-line workers need better treatment

David Linton, Library Assistant, University of Minnesota Libraries

I’ve been at the University of Minnesota for over 20 years, which means I was here before there was a union to represent the technical, clerical and health care workers at the University. Old-timers like me remember the 1980s, former University President Kenneth Keller and his attitude toward University workers. 
 
After years without raises, we learned that he had spent $1.5 million to renovate the president’s mansion and over $17,000 to decorate his office with expensive furniture. When a mahogany desk and a credenza are more important than front-line workers, that’s not respect! So we formed a union, and we told the University,
 
“We won’t be ignored and scapegoated so administrators can act like robber barons. We will speak with one voice. We will be heard, and we will be respected.”
 
When we formed the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME locals), I had a great supervisor and worked for a great department, so parts of the contract were just theoretical to me. Jerking schedules around or treating people unfairly doesn’t make for a healthy or productive workplace, but good supervisors know that. 
 
Well, in 2011, I was transferred to a different department — and let me tell you, now I know why they wrote all those clauses into the contract. For 20 years, I was a fine employee: I was promoted, earned commendations and was a national expert in the niche area I was working in. But suddenly under a new supervisor, I’m incompetent and a non-cooperator. 
 
In over three years at the new job, I have never heard a word of praise from my new supervisor. My work is subject to harsh review, where a single typo on a multi-page record is used as “proof” that my work is sub-standard. 
 
I’ve also had some personal situations to deal with, and I’ve used my vacation and sick leave time — my earned hours — to cover a lot of medical appointments.
 
Now, I’m being disciplined for “excessive absences.” That is not respect, and that’s not right. Working at the University shouldn’t be a game of “supervisor roulette.” 
 
We’re on the same team, working to make this University great. But that team won’t succeed if some members of the team act like petty tyrants or if the folks who get the spotlight forget about all the folks who make it possible for them to shine. 
 
A good team respects all of its members, and that’s why all the unionized workers on campus — and outstate — are uniting to remind the administration we are an important part of this team. We deserve a fair contract, and we deserve respect!