November 3, 2009

Admin responds to SOUL activism for workers' hours

Campus administrators responded to protests and a letter from Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL) decrying the 35-hour workweek, down from a standard 40-hour workweek, for campus employees.

In response to SOUL’s letter to President Robert Zimmer, University Chief Financial Officer Nim Chinniah and Kim Goff-Crews, vice president for Campus Life, sent a reply in which they emphasized that, among others, this decision was made to maintain the University’s fiscal health, and that it was made to prioritize staff retention.

The workweek for RHC staff was cut to 35 hours July 1, following a decision made last April.

“Reducing hours per week enabled the University to keep as many people as possible employed with full-time benefits,” they wrote, explaining that only four employees were laid off.

But SOUL, which advocates on the behalf of campus workers and workers with the employee union, disagrees with the decision. They see the University’s failure to reinstate 40-hour workweeks for Resident Halls and Commons (RHC) staff, even as the campus undergoes renovation projects, as incongrous.

SOUL member and fourth-year Sarah Farr said the signs, which pointed to new renovations, were posted to raise student awareness of the cut in hours. “We think a lot of people aren’t aware that all the people who are cleaning up [the campus]­—all these people have been cut to 35 hours,” she said.

Farr said that the decrease in hours amounted to an eight percent pay cut for campus workers. “It’s pretty significant, especially in light of the fact that Zimmer sent out an e-mail saying the budget crisis is now over so we can get on with our lives as usual,” she said, citing initiatives such as repaving the main quad, and the faculty expansion announced by President Zimmer.

“We need to respect people who are important” to the University, Farr said.

University spokesman Jeremy Manier said decisions such as cutting back the workweek are a necessary response to the financial crisis, a response that will eventually enable the University to return to greater financial stability and flexibility.

“I think it is true that, relative to some peers, the University has been doing OK the last several months,” he said, adding that cuts to this year’s budget do not reflect the future outlook. “That’s why we can look at making decisions like expanding the faculty and continuing the Mansueto Library,” he said.

Chinniah and Goff-Crews also promised to meet with SOUL members to discuss their concerns.