U offices surviving employee shortage

by Jake Weyer

With approximately 15 employees out on strike during its busiest time, the University’s Office of Admissions’ remaining employees are taking on extra workloads and longer hours to provide normal services.

Although the office receives approximately 200 applications each day – up 18 percent from last year – admissions director Wayne Sigler said employees are working to process them in a timely manner.

The office has 25 clerical workers who are largely responsible for processing applications. To get the work done, Sigler said supervisors have been doing more direct processing work, and managers are handling phone calls supervisors would normally receive.

Despite the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 strike, nonstriking employees throughout the University are picking up extra work to provide essential services in the absence of their striking colleagues.

AFSCME Locals 3800 and 3801, the unions representing approximately 1,900 full-time University clerical workers at the Twin Cities, Morris, Crookston and Duluth campuses, have been on strike since Tuesday. No mediation between the University and the unions has been scheduled.

Carol Carrier, vice president in the Office of Human Resources, said 60 percent of AFSCME Local 3800 and 3801 members went to work Friday.

Payroll employee and AFSCME Local 3800 member Angela Jannotta chose not to strike and picked up the work of her striking co-workers.

Jannotta, who does payroll for the departments of pediatrics; obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health; ear, nose and throat; and neurosurgery, was the only employee left in her office last week. One co-worker was out sick, and two were on strike.

She said she feels guilty about coming to work, but she cannot afford to strike.

Although she has been busier, Jannotta said people will still receive their paychecks from her office that processes 800 employee paychecks.

Karen Tschida, the human resources director for Jannotta’s four departments, said of the office’s 45 AFSCME Local 3800 employees, 14 are on strike. The striking employees are scattered throughout the departments.

Tschida said other employees will have to adjust to the loss, but work will get done.

“Things might not get done as fast, but they will still get done,” she said.

Other departments are feeling little strain.

Of the approximately 40 employees in the Office of the Registrar, fewer than 10 are on strike, said Margo Muelle, an information and technology supervisor. Because this is not a busy time for the office, she said, the strike has not been a problem. She said people are filling in and helping out to get things done, but no one is working overtime.

Things are also running smoothly in the chemistry department, executive assistant Nancy Hagberg said, although she has worked through lunch breaks to fill in for striking staff members.

Of the seven clerical workers Hagberg said she supervises in the school of chemistry, three were on strike Thursday and two on Friday.

“Right now, it is still kind of like people are on vacation,” Hagberg said. “Faculty must have planned ahead and had some of the tasks done ahead of time.”

At University Information Services, which provides telephone, e-mail and general information to thousands of callers daily, the strike has created emotional distress for some workers, Information Services director Hawona Sullivan Janzen said.

The office received harassing and threatening phone calls after a posting on a local Web site encouraged people to tie up the lines to support striking workers.

On Tuesday there was a four-hour period in which phone calls did not stop, and there were also a lot of harassing calls Thursday, Janzen said.

“We’re such pushovers and so nice because we are used to helping people with problems,” she said. “For a while, we thought the bizarre phone calls were normal, and then we became suspicious.”

Janzen said one caller wanted information about Homecoming events and asked the Information Services employee to read each of the more than 60 events out loud. She said the employee politely declined and offered Web sites where the caller could access that information herself.

Including Janzen, the department has 16 employees. Of those, nine are AFSCME Local 3800 members, and seven went on strike.

Second strike

AFSCME Local 3260, the union representing 174 University medical employees, filed its intent to strike last week and could strike by Nov. 4.

Kay Berzak, an outpatient clinic assistant and AFSCME Local 3260 member, said approximately 60 union medical employees work in Boynton Health Service. They take temperatures, weigh patients, give shots and assist doctors. AFSCME Local 3260 members also work in the Dentistry School and the Community-University Health Care Center.

Berzak, who is on her union’s negotiating committee, said the medical workers intend to walk out if the University does not call them back to the negotiating table.

Rallying support

AFSCME Local 3800 held two rallies last week to gain support.

Several speakers attended the rallies, including union members, students and state legislators.

Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, spoke at a rally in front of Morrill Hall on Thursday. She said the Legislature, which funds the University, can put moral pressure on the institution.

“We can make it clear that we are not happy about how the money is being distributed,” she said.

Elliott Lynch, a theater arts junior, read several support letters from students at the rally. Last week, Lynch began setting rocks on pieces of paper in front of campus buildings so people could write their opinions and place them in front of building entrances.

Lynch said he supports the strike but wants to attend class, so the “rock lines” were a way for him to show support.

“I wanted to make something that was a physical line,” he said. “It really is creating a border.”

On Friday, union members from Hotel Employee and Restaurant Employee Locals 34 and 35, unions representing approximately 2,800 clerical and technical workers from Yale University, spoke at a rally on the West Bank Plaza.

Those unions were on strike for three and a half weeks before ratifying a new contract earlier this year.

Laura Smith, president of HERE Local 34, said her union’s motives for striking were almost identical to those of AFSCME Locals 3800 and 3801. She said the strike turned out to be a complete victory for the Yale unions.

“It’s probably the best contract we’ve ever had,” she said.

– Patricia Drey and Tricia Michel contributed to this report.