Selective Shutdowns Are Go

Union members vote on the selective shutdown proposal in McCormack lobby. - Photo Carl Brooks

Union members vote on the selective shutdown proposal in McCormack lobby. – Photo Carl Brooks

Carl Brooks

In a move that might save the university half a million dollars, the campus will be undergo selective shutdowns during the holidays. By an “overwhelming” majority, the unions on campus have approved a proposal by the administration to shut the campus down around the upcoming holidays to pinch pennies on energy and labor costs. It will also reduce “unfunded vacation balance liability” on the university’s bottom line.

Shutting the campus down means exactly what it sounds like. The lights go off, the heat and plumbing systems power down and the whole anthill is closed off except for a skeleton crew and essential items like alarm systems and the computer network’s backbone. Campus Police will remain, as well as a half dozen staff workers to monitor the sleeping campus.

The days affected are Thanksgiving and two days after, Nov. 27-29, and from the two days preceding Christmas, Dec. 23 to Jan. 1 2004. Faculty and staff should be on their toes because offices will be closed and computers shut off, so back up those files, kids.

The proposal didn’t come without controversy, because all of the people affected by the shutdowns are campus workers and faculty members. The selective shutdown proposal first saw the light of day in the in August, when recommendations for budget cuts were released and subsequently approved by the chancellor’s office, and after a round of talks between Human Resources and the unions, came to a vote.

At the heart of the matter is how union members were to be compensated for being forced to take vacation days during the shutdowns. According to the “memorandum of agreement” that union workers approved last week, employees with vacation time coming will get five compensatory days in exchange for five vacation days, although two of them must be used on the days preceding Christmas, and none of the comp days will roll over, like vacation time would, into the next academic year.

That means that a campus union member could potentially take a 13-day holiday from Dec 21-Jan 3, without using any extra vacation and without having to worry that somebody else is covering their workload. Except, of course, for the “essential personnel.”

In a refreshing twist, everyone involved seems to think that the negotiations went really well, if a bit rushed. Tom Goodkind, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and spokesman for the SEIU, said, “It did go really well.”

Goodkind said the university was eager to please from the getgo, “They didn’t try to impose [the shutdown proposal] on us, not that they would have been able too, but they made it very clear that the administration [didn’t want to].”

Mark Preble, Director of Human Resources, was also quite pleased at the lack of combative feeling when he sat down with the unions, “It was my first opportunity to sit down with all the major unions and resolve an issue.”

“We had an open discussion about everybody’s interests”

Other union members weren’t so sure that the process had gone all that smoothly. Diane DuJon, Director of Experiential Learning in the College of Public Service and Community Support felt that the whole thing had happened so fast that some people didn’t have a good grasp of what they were voting for, “I don’t think they gave us enough lead time. A lot of people have a lot of questions. I really have my doubts as to their purpose.” DuJon said that the university looked to staff first to make budgets cuts, and she hoped, “nobody gets punished for not getting their work done.” Tess Ewing from the Labor Resource Center called it a “disadvantaged negotiation.”

Goodkind doesn’t think that it was a big problem, “The proposal is very complicated. Although people have known about it, the actual details have only been known for 3 or 4 days. But we had people at the voting booths to explain the proposal.”

Union members evidently agreed, because the vote was a landslide for the proposal, with Goodkind saying, “the majority voted overwhelmingly.” According to an unofficial source, 400 union workers voted for the shutdowns. The classified and professional staff, both with SEIU 888, the Faculty Staff Union, and the Graduate Student Union all voted. The faculty have the least to gain from the proposal because they are not awarded vacation time like other employees.

The unions are very clear that the vote and shutdowns aren’t going to create a precedent for monkeying with vacation days, and although this proposal was rushed through in a few months, Ewing says, “we were caught unawares by them. We’ll be better prepared next time.”

As for the essential personnel, who will be picked out by their supervisors to stay on campus during the shutdowns, Goodkind thanks they are “neither gaining nor losing” because the won’t lose vacation days, which can roll over from year to year.