An open letter to U leadership

I commend you on your commitment to workplace and campus safety, exemplified in the Safe U campaign.

I ask for your effort for another important aspect of safety for members of the University of Minnesota community: University staff (usually bargaining unit and civil service) who are required to travel to and from campus in unsafe conditions. The current inequity in rules for University employees comes into play in these situations.

For example, on Feb. 21, weather conditions compelled the Minnesota Department of Transportation to advise no travel in the metro area or the entire state. Many metro public schools closed because of the unsafe conditions. The University employees, who had the flexibility to do so, arranged to work from home. Many faculty members canceled their on-campus classes. However, civil service and bargaining unit employees were required to report to work. In our department, those employees staffed phone lines and the department office, where no important phone calls were received and no front office services were requested, in our essentially empty building.

I urge you to look for ways to remedy these inequities with regard to employee safety. There needs to be a way to designate “essential employees” who must report to work in adverse weather conditions. Non-essential employees, such as office staff, should not have to risk their safety to sit at their desks in empty buildings.

Earlier this winter, supervisors of bargaining unit and civil service employees were asked to consider allowing staff to work from home or take vacation time to avoid unsafe travel to and from campus. Leaving that to supervisor discretion means the result was inequitable and inconsistent. In addition, when staff use paid time off for this purpose, it’s essentially requiring a monetary sacrifice in order to avoid putting themselves at risk. This is unequal treatment compared with employees, who are given discretion to work from home, or faculty, who are allowed to cancel their on-campus duties without any monetary sacrifice.

I realize this is a complicated issue or it would have been addressed by now. However, you have shown a willingness to bring energy to some recent safety issues. I’m sure your intent is to address employee safety for all members of the University community, and I look forward to your work on this issue.