Letter: unsettling times

By M. Patricia Gordon

Editor, the Gauntlet,

So another decade has ended and a New Year has begun, but while the economists have expressed optimism that the bleak times of the recession are behind us one is left pondering what 2010 will bring for the University of Calgary; I suspect it will be a rather unsettling year.

The despondency of 2009 was marked by the layoffs in the fall of 200-plus support staff, including myself. Streamlining became the operative word; yet it isn’t enhancing services at the university. Prior to the layoffs many support staff were already feeling over-worked, under-appreciated and drained. The low morale amongst the support staff appears to contradict the almighty recruitment slogan that the university is “a Great Place to Work and Learn.” While 80 IT personnel lost their jobs in the fall it wasn’t long before the decision-makers in management began looking at using a staffing agency to recruit PeopleSoft contract workers. It begs the question, is the outsourcing of U of C support jobs the direction management wants to move the university towards? If so, what is the university’s vision in terms of providing services to staff and students?

During the layoffs it became clear that support staff were being forced to bear the brunt of the terminations because of what those above like to refer to as “budget constraints.” Yet, it is difficult to justify the laying off of support staff while increasing the number of highly paid managerial and professional positions. In December alone nine managerial and professional jobs for the IS2 project were posted. How cost effective are these recruitments? When one looks at the organizational hierarchies within the university it becomes increasingly clear the university is already top heavy; the university has more directors and associate directors than several large corporations combined. Upper management seems to have lost focus and forgotten that the University of Calgary is an academic institution and not a corporation. As a result, the support staff, academics and students alike are paying the price. Not surprisingly then, support staff and academics increasingly feel that management is failing to value them; yet, we should not forget that support staff and academics are the university’s greatest resource.

Regrettably, the union is impotent. What might come as a surprise to most support staff is that seniority is not what they assume it to be. A full-time experienced employee with many years’ service can be let go in favour of a limited term inexperienced employee in the same job category. The university can, because it has done so, break Article 40 of the AUPE Collective Agreement on the redeployment of any employee made redundant. As the union enters a new bargaining agreement in 2010, it has a responsibility to ensure that full-time employees are better protected. And while the union cannot organize strike action, there is nothing stopping the union from organizing lunchtime peaceful gatherings protesting any future layoffs at the U of C. The union needs to show solidarity with their support staff members.

Whoever the next president of the university is in 2010, he or she is certain to have a tough road ahead of them. It won’t be about approving the construction of more buildings — the university doesn’t even have the people to service existing buildings — but rather about building bridges between upper management and the support staff and academics, in addition to providing students with the quality of education and service they deserve.

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