Strike policies worry profs, TAs

by Jake Weyer

Multiple warnings from the University regarding expected faculty and student behavior during an employee strike have created confusion among faculty and teaching assistants.

Executive Vice President and Provost Christine Maziar sent an e-mail to faculty and professional and administrative employees Wednesday that said the University expects classes to be held at their regular time and locations. Another e-mail message sent earlier this month said University employees might have to pick up extra work if the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800, the union representing 1,800 full-time University clerical workers, goes on strike.

The union plans to strike Tuesday if it does not reach a contract agreement with the University before then, a union official said.

The e-mail is one of several sent this month regarding expected student and employee conduct during a strike. However, the University does not have any policy in place to immediately discipline professors and teaching assistants who refuse to cross picket lines and who hold classes off campus.

“We’re not sure where enforcement will come from or what our additional duties will be,” said Chris Pappas, a sociology graduate instructor and president of the University’s Council of Graduate Students. “Most (graduate) students I’ve talked to are pretty confused and don’t know where to look for answers.”

Pappas said graduate students are most concerned about being asked to perform additional duties during a strike, something mentioned in one of the University’s e-mails. He said students could handle some extra work, but to temporarily replace a clerical worker on strike would be unacceptable without compensation.

The average teaching assistant works approximately 20 hours per week, Pappas said. Some might be willing to work more, but time is not the issue.

“It’s not a question of time,” Pappas said. “It’s a question of fairness.”

Carol Carrier, vice president for the University’s Office of Human Resources, said it is likely nonstriking employees, including graduate student employees, will take on additional duties during a strike. Graduate student employees and faculty members will have to discuss those workloads with their supervisors, she said.

She also said the University is asking department heads and graduate student supervisors to talk with professors and teaching assistants who want to hold classes off campus.

“We do not expect our faculty or TAs to inconvenience people,” she said.

Students with tight schedules or disabilities might have trouble attending courses off campus, she said.

Craig Swan, an economics professor and vice provost, said professors and teaching assistants are required to make appropriate accommodations for students. If students complain about accommodations, those complaints will be investigated, and the University will try to resolve those issues, he said.

Swan said he does not expect widespread difficulties and he hopes a strike can still be averted.

F.R.P. Akehurst, chairman of the department of French and Italian, said he sent an e-mail to his department regarding the possible strike.

“I’ve simply warned them that if they don’t show up to class on that day, they might be subject to sanctions,” Akehurst said. “I know some people may choose to hold class off campus, but I’ve tried to warn them about the dangers about that.”

If someone is hurt attending classes off campus, the University could be sued, Akehurst said. He said despite these concerns and administration warnings, the University might not be as tough on sympathetic employees as its e-mails suggest – especially if a strike is short.

Nobody quite knows how to enforce the administration’s rules, Akehurst said.

“I tried to stress to my faculty and instructors and TAs that we have to live here after the strike is over, and it will be easier for us to live together after if they show respect and consideration,” he said. “Urging everybody to be courteous and understanding is as much as I can do.”

Employment attorney John Roszak said if professors hold classes off campus, they risk incurring discipline under state law. Also, liability issues might be raised if students are injured during classes held off campus.