Archive for December, 2009

From undergrad and graduate students across the Twin Cities campus to the different employee unions and classes, our momentum of broad-based support for Michele’s reinstatement continues. We include an example below the signature, from an e-mail sent out last week by AFSCME 3800 chief steward Cherrene Horazuk. We are Friends and Supporters in Solidarity with Michele Rockne! ***********************************************************************************************************

What subsequent probation is, why it needs to be eliminated, and why Michele Rockne deserves to be reinstated

Serving probation when you first start a job is common throughout the public and private sector. Serving multiple probationary periods at the same employer is extremely uncommon, however. But that is exactly what the University requires frontline staff to do. If you change jobs at the U, you will be required to serve probation every time. While on probation, you have minimal protection – an employer may fire you without cause, meaning that they need minimal reasons to get rid of somebody.

Our contract states a grievance can’t be filed over a worker’s failure to pass probation. We have seen long-term workers fail probation after having worked in a similar job for 10, 15, or even 20 years. Quite often, this happens with workers who are laid off from one position at the U and are hired into a vacancy off the layoff list or bump into a position. These workers have proven themselves over many years on the job, and should be recognized for their skills. Instead, the new supervisor acts as if the worker is damaged goods that are foisted upon them. And HR does nothing to challenge this gross misperception. Since our first contract, we have worked to get rid of the requirement that workers serve probation after their first time.

The bottom line is that subsequent probation is used to get rid of higher paid, long term workers, or other workers that supervisors don’t want.

In a culture where the experience and knowledge that comes with age is not valued, subsequent probation is used to get rid of people who supervisors see as “not fitting the image of a department”. This has become even more apparent this year as we have seen several long term employees laid off from positions they have held successfully for years, and then they have been told that they are suddenly not competent for a new job with the same or similar duties.

The latest egregious example of this is Michele Rockne. Michele started working at the University of Minnesota in May 2000. For over nine years she helped build up the Career Services Office of the Institute of Technology. After many years supporting the Institute of Technology and its future graduates, IT management scaled back services to its students and laid Michele off. There happened to be a vacancy open in the same job classification in the Fine Theoretical Physics Institute and without any other recourse, Michele accepted this position.

Michele welcomed her new responsibilities, but soon learned that management in the Fine Institute would not establish clear expectations that would help her succeed in this position while refusing to provide proper training in certain new tasks. Michele asked for assistance on numerous occasions and unfortunately, further attempts to clarify expectations with management were met with disdain. Management went so far as to say that “setting standards and clarifying expectations in advance would be unfair to a University employee.” After almost 10 years of service to the University, Michele was failed on probation and forced out of her job.

Help Reinstate Michele Rockne Sign the online petition at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/3/reinstate-michele

Please call or email Professor Mikhail Voloshin, Director of the Fine Institute for Theoretical Physics, and tell him to do the right thing and reinstate Michele. His number is 612-625-0798 and his email is: voloshin@physics.umn.edu.

When you call, feel free to use or adapt the following script:

“Hello, my name is _____ and I am a [Fellow AFSCME member, U of MN student, co-worker of Michele’s, colleague of Michele’s, etc.]. I’m calling to share my frustrations with your decision to remove Michele from her position at the University. I demand that you reinstate Michele and subsequently establish clear standards to help this long-term employee succeed in the Fine Institute.

You removed a dedicated employee during a probationary period – the second probationary period this employee has served, having long since proven her worth and expertise in serving University students and faculty over the past 9 and-a-half years. I expect you and the University to do the right thing and I’ll continue to follow-up on this issue until it’s resolved.”

Take a Stand Against Layoffs Michele wouldn’t even be in this situation if her original department had not laid her off. As the third largest public employer in Minnesota, the U has an obligation to retain its employees.

University workers are not the problem, since our salaries have remained stagnant while the number of vice-deans, vice-provosts and vice-presidents has risen dramatically. The budget is not a zero sum game between students and front-line staff, while upper level administration staffing remains inviolate.

Clerical positions have been cut from 3200 to 1600 in the past 15 years, while P&A positions increased 1000% in the same time period, from several hundred to almost 4000 positions! Clerical staff have been forced to work harder than ever to do the jobs that were previously done by two or three. Further cuts jeopardize the academic mission of the University. Over $7 million can be saved with a 10% reduction in the number of top administrative positions.

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