April 28, 2008
I see where things are going, and I’m not real happy about it, but they’re going to go where they go. I’m right in the middle of negotiations with my union local and the University. We’re not a typical sort of trade union; hell, most jobs in the USA aren’t trades anymore. Most jobs are turning into service jobs of one kind or another. A lot of our people are administrative assistants, (which is the new title for secretaries everywhere), or advisers or other desk jockeys. We live and work in a college town with a military base and a weapons lab and a big University. Even Enron has a chip plant nearby. The Sandia (Watermelon) and Manzano (Apple) Mountains are full of nuclear missiles. The anti-war people keep trying to get the city council to force the government to admit that the missiles are there, and that they are a target and hazard that we should be prepared for. There is the hope that we can get rid of those someday.
Our local is at the University. Education is our mission, and every department has a mission statement, just like the corporations and their imitators all over the country. Useless things, mission statements. Hardly anyone reads ‘em, and they don’t reflect anything except the way the grossly overpaid administrators felt the day of the retreat when they wrote ‘em.
We do our jobs. We put up with asinine supervisors and managers who have or are working on their business degrees, and hope to make something more of themselves. They squeeze staff, push ‘em around, and then move on to their next position, a step up somewhere, with a fuller resume, and a recommendation or two. We remain here, and try to keep our jobs. Myself, I work in a DNA research lab, mostly running robot-like machines that manipulate DNA. It’s a living. I’m the President of the local, for the last four years, and I’m really tired of negotiations. We’ve done well for the staff here. We have to lobby the State every year for our raises, insurance and health benefits, because they control the purse strings. Negotiations are entirely dependent on what was appropriated before we even set negotiation ground rules, but we go through the motions anyway. We dick around with the contract every year, trying to improve on protections for staff, and make management more accountable. Sometimes we win a little, sometimes it’s a draw. But, every year the contract gets a little better, and we lose more members.
Everyone we represent by law isn’t a member, and they don’t have to be, to be protected by the contract or get the raise we negotiate. In fact, it’s rare that there’s much difference between the benefits of being a dues-paying member and a free rider. Usually, for staff we cover, it’s a clean shot at a certain raise percentage, while people outside of our representation get whatever their supervisors decide out of what funds are available, which can vary quite a bit.
So, one of our members has a problem with the way she was treated. She was getting pushed around and we fought back. She got the promotion she deserved, but a lousy performance review. These reviews don’t mean a whole lot, but it bothers people because they worry about the reviews being used against them. In this member’s case, she is being retaliated against for fighting for herself. She didn’t like her review, but we can respond to ratings and comments with our own comments before signing the damn things. I told her to go ahead and sign hers, and make all the comments she wanted. Her bosses sent the thing to the personnel department, excuse me, Human Resources department, and they sent it back because it was incomplete.
This is damn boring stuff, ain’t it?
Anywho, once it came back, the review was changed, comments were added, and then it was sent back to be put in her permanent record, and all of this after it had already been signed. Illegal, and even against University policy. Human Resources did nothing, and just assumed that the correct version is in this woman’s file, even though she told them it wasn’t. It seems a small matter. However, a contract is a contract, and just as our union contract has the force of law behind it, so does any other contract made in this country, or at least it used to. When you sign a document, it doesn’t get changed afterwards, or it’s no longer an accurate or legal document. Everything is on our side in this. Today, a group of three union officers went to HR to see the personnel files and were refused. HR has a 24-hour rule about access, and they didn’t know that, so they were pissed off. So far, they are no repercussions to the small-scale confrontation, but, like I said earlier, I have a bad sense about where this is going. We have already made it clear this could be a legal matter. The union officers, who are also the negotiating team, are pissed off, and HR is wanting to meet. Meanwhile we have to meet the same people in negotiations in a couple more days.
I’m so tired of all this. Important rights are at stake, but someone is going to lose a job here, maybe even me. I’m so tired of my job, and I seem to have few reasons to even stay around here. I wanted to retire in a few years, and try writing, or part-time work at least. Getting divorced took away my chance at retirement. It wasn’t my idea, but my ex got the house. I get to keep my retirement income if I ever retire, but it won’t be enough to buy a house, and I’m too old to take out a long-term mortgage anyway. My retirement income won’t even be enough to afford a nice place to live, so at the moment, I have no idea what kind of future to look for.
It’s so easy to push people around, even at what the right-wing nuts like to call a liberal university. There are good people here, and good ideas, but the place is being run as a business, and the management of the University see our union as an outside business muscling in on their territory. There is certainly a territorial fight over turf involved in negotiations every year. We feel like we win a little, but then we hear of managers pushing people around, telling them to quit if they don’t like it, and getting rid of people who actually understand how the ever-changing rules and regulations work. We have a new financial system that took years to put into place and tweak, and it forces people to conform to it, instead of being just a useful tool. The bureaucratic mind loves it, since they expect everything to fit under its umbrella, but there’s always something we can’t do, or must do because of the accounting software structure. Most of the admin assistants have been turned into part-time accountants, and are given purchasing cards that spell the end of their jobs if lost or not properly accounted for, even if no wrong doing occurs. It’s a funny place.
Our Governor gets to appoint the Regents, a medieval nomenclature for the political appointees who run this place. He ran for President of the United States. He knows a lot about international politics and is a skilled negotiator, but, really, he does not know what goes on at this university, except that tuition for students has to keep going up.
03/13/09 UPDATE: UNM’s faculty voted no confidence in UNM President Schmidly, Executive Vice President David Harris, and President of the Board of Regents Jamie Koch. We’re still waiting to see what happens, as a new audit was also requested, but Governor Richardson visited campus and met with faculty. Shortly afterwards, Jamie Koch stepped down as President of the Board. Our Legislature is still in session, so we have yet to see if they will confirm Koch’s seat on the Board. They still need to confirm the new President of the Board. Meanwhile, the Board of Regents can’t meet, and UNM seems no worse for that. Harris needs to go too.