Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

U of M temp workers organizing

12. March 2007 • MarkDilley
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Announced today is the effort by temporary workers in the School of Business to gain improvements in their working conditions.

The efforts will greatly benifit from solidarity from the community. Please consider lending a hand to the DIY union drive.

...present demands calling for health care access, wage improvements, full-time work status, and an electable/recallable manager, among other job-site improvements. This move brings to fruition a months-long, under-the-radar campaign being carried out by University of Michigan employees and the IWW to organize temporary workers and the unrepresented at the University of Michigan



  1. If you’re interested in helping organize labor, you may want to (besides spelling “benifit” as “benefit”) give some links or information on how to contact these people. Do these temporary workers have some kind of e-mail address, telephone number, or website? Does the group have a name?

    If you don’t provide any of that, the IWW might find your efforts, uh, wobbly.


       —David Boyle    Mar. 13 '07 - 12:44AM    #
  2. I hope this works. Previous organizing efforts have foundered at the U-M partly because of “false consciousness”: a belief on the part of workers that they are better off than they are, or that being unionized would be an indication of downward mobility in status.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 13 '07 - 12:37PM    #
  3. The temps campaign’s website is : http://isupportthetemps.blogspot.com


       —EWIU    Mar. 13 '07 - 06:18PM    #
  4. Thanks. Nice to see someone’s paying attention.


       —David Boyle    Mar. 14 '07 - 12:33AM    #
  5. Oh yes, we MUST improve the working conditions of the temporary B-School workers! Temporary B-School workers? Are you kidding me? Is this for real? I can’t imagine a bigger waste of time and resources. I just now stopped laughing long enough to type this. Precious.


       —Ross    Mar. 14 '07 - 12:59AM    #
  6. “False consciousness” run rampant. Quod erat demonstrandum. 8-)


       —David Cahill    Mar. 14 '07 - 01:21AM    #
  7. Patricians, yes!


       —Ross    Mar. 14 '07 - 01:49AM    #
  8. So who are these tech temps? Aren’t many of them students? Why would it necessarily be a good thing for the U to offer a smaller number of full-time jobs (as the temps are demanding) rather than more part-time jobs? It certainly seems that these are the kind of part-time jobs that the U should be making available to students, so I’m not sure I see why it’d be a good thing to see them converted to permanent, full-time, unionized positions.


       —mw    Mar. 14 '07 - 02:03PM    #
  9. Related to mw’s question, I’m unclear on the “full-time” thing. Is it that the temps are part-time and mainly looking for more hours, or that they’re “temporary” and are mainly looking for permanent employee status?

    Reading their letter of demands , they do mention assigning hours to existing employees rather than hiring more employees, but there seems to be much more focus on the permanent-not-temp status issue.

    Fortunately, the Daily is doing an excellent job of covering this story, so there’s plenty of information available. No, wait. I can’t find anything on this in the Daily.


       —Murph    Mar. 15 '07 - 05:02PM    #
  10. There are very important issues to be dealt with regarding workers’ status as temp. employees at the Univ.

    A temp worker can enter into employment with the University without ever being presented a written description of job responsibilities and requirements. The requirements of the job can change at the whim of a supervisor without the temp employees’ consent or knowledge. The University doesn’t even have a basic contract for temp workers to sign…that’s up to the departments (most of whom don’t bother).

    Temp workers also have no formalized recourse for disagreements with their superiors or other agents of the University. No grievance procedures, no arbitration, no nothing unless they can afford to hire legal counsel (or the dept. happens to be very progressive).

    Many people take issues like this for granted, but they are very important to the people working under those conditions.

    Maybe some this of this stuff has been dealt with since I worked at the Univ. as a temp. worker five years ago, but I doubt it. I have worked for several employers as a temp., but the Univ. recognized the fewest number of my rights as an employee by far.


       —kena    Mar. 15 '07 - 10:47PM    #
  11. A temp worker can enter into employment with the University without ever being presented a written description of job responsibilities and requirements. The requirements of the job can change at the whim of a supervisor without the temp employees’ consent or knowledge. The University doesn’t even have a basic contract for temp workers to sign…that’s up to the departments (most of whom don’t bother).

    But that level of informality actually sounds pretty reasonable if the temp employees are mostly students working part-time, no?


       —mw    Mar. 16 '07 - 01:15PM    #
  12. Many of the temps and 3rd-party contracted workers getting slighted on campus are not students. Its honestly about 50-50 when you take into consideration the hospital, clerical workers, groundskeepers, and others on campus.

    We on the temps organizing committee would like to thank ArborUpdate for helping us get the word out about the campaign. You broke the story before either the daily or the Ann Arbor News. Thanks for being on the ball.

    The Temps


       —EWIU    Mar. 16 '07 - 06:08PM    #
  13. Many of the temps and 3rd-party contracted workers getting slighted on campus are not students. Its honestly about 50-50 when you take into consideration the hospital, clerical workers, groundskeepers, and others on campus.

    That feels like a bit of an evasion (why talk about all temporary and contract workers campus-wide?) What about these particular workers at the B-school? Mostly students or not?

    And, in general, if all campus temp/part time work was converted to full time, service union work — wouldn’t that result in far fewer part time work opportunities for students (who aren’t looking for and can’t work in permanent, full-time positions)? Do you think any campus jobs should be kept as temporary and part-time so that students can take advantage of them? If so, which ones?


       —mw    Mar. 17 '07 - 02:23PM    #
  14. MW, I think you are confusing part-time and temp. We are not asking the university to get rid of part-time jobs. We are asking the university to give workers access to UHS and room for advancement if a worker is interested. The easiest way to do that (for the university) is give that worker the option of regular “full-time” employment. And we are only asking they do that for those employees that are interested. We aren’t asking the university to eliminate the roll of temps, we are simply asking that they treat temp workers fairly.


       —EWIU    Mar. 17 '07 - 03:53PM    #
  15. But that level of informality actually sounds pretty reasonable if the temp employees are mostly students working part-time, no?

    What?!? It doesn’t sound at all reasonable to me that any worker should expect not to have a well-defined job and some sort of contract specifying the details.


       —Kelli    Mar. 17 '07 - 09:10PM    #
  16. What?!? It doesn’t sound at all reasonable to me that any worker should expect not to have a well-defined job and some sort of contract specifying the details.

    Really?!? Because personally, I don’t think I’ve ever had a job with a detailed job description written into an employment contract. I certainly didn’t when I was working part-time jobs as a student.


       —mw    Mar. 18 '07 - 03:02PM    #
  17. Really?!? Because personally, I don’t think I’ve ever had a job with a detailed job description written into an employment contract. I certainly didn’t when I was working part-time jobs as a student.

    Thank you MW! Since I am not a B-school IT temp, I have no idea if they have other legitimate concerns about how they are treated, but a detailed job description is absolutely laughable to me. Especially because I am a full-time IT person at the University and I can count on one hand the number of days when I have been able to walk into work and do what is in my very brief job description all day. Perhaps there are some jobs that are that predictable, but IT sure isn’t one of them. In addition, the best employees do pretty much what they need to do to get a job done. There is nothing more frustrating than working with someone who says something “isn’t in their job description.” It has been my experience that if you are in IT, pretty much everything is in your job description.

    Also, temps at the U always have the opportunity to move up by applying to posted full-time jobs across the University. I started as a temp and then was hired into the U full time and it is how my department hired our last full-time person. Rarely are temporary jobs intended to be full time. On the other hand, in my experience, good temporary people are almost always hired full-time by either their department or by other departments who have seen the temp work. Full-time worker benefits can almost double the cost of an employee to a department. If a department is currently using a lot of temp workers, it may be because they simply don’t have the money to hire the right number of people full-time. Certainly some departments have more money than others and departments choose to spend their money in different ways, but the difference between a temp and a full-time employee is a lot of money.

    All that said, the B-school IT department is getting notorious on campus. More than one of their top people have simply walked away from their relatively high-paying jobs in the last year or so because the working conditions were so bad. So something definitely isn’t right there.


       —Juliew    Mar. 18 '07 - 09:40PM    #
  18. Remember this stuff when someone tosses you out on your butt because you weren’t ‘fulfilling your job responsibilities.’
    It’s a really ‘laughable’ experience…especially when you don’t have much idea of what they actually are. It’s so funny that i laugh about it to this day…

    I worked under such conditions at the hands of a moody professor. I found out that i was the third person to fill the position i occupied in less than 9 months. I knew generally what the professor wanted when i took the job, but he was never satisfied with what i was doing (not concerning the quality, but the types of tasks i was engaged in). I actually lasted longer than the other people, but a personality conflict developed because i couldn’t tolerate being admonished for not completing work that i didn’t realize was part of my job.
    I’m not saying that this case is the norm, but the university backed him up using their legal council. Because there was no contract, i had no legal legs to stand on.

    It isn’t that hard to construct a contract which outlines core responsibilities for a position but also incorporates flexibility. I’ve worked at several places that do so, and i’ve never had any problems changing the responsibilities of my job (quite drastically in some cases) at any of them.

    The university doesn’t do this because it takes a little extra work and it allows them to more easily terminate workers. It simply ensures that workers have no say in the rules which govern their working conditions.

    I’m sorry juliew…but people who use the line ‘it isn’t in my job description’ are just as lazy as the administrators and professors who can’t be bothered to lift a pen to construct a contract for a temp worker.
    These types of ‘flexibility’ and ‘lack of predictability’ arguments are standard ones for trying to keep unions out of a workplace…whether they’re trying to organize full-time, part-time, or temporary positions. They really don’t have much to do with the feasibility of constructing a contract that protects both the worker and the employer.

    I think you’ll also find that the pole that most people have to climb to get into the university is much greasier than your experience juliew…especially if you’re a grounds crewperson, maintenance person, etc. I can provide with the names of many, many, many, many temp workers have been trying to get into the university’s part/full time legions for years, but have been unable to do so. Getting a full/part time position often has little to do with whether your an employee who does “...pretty much what they need to do to get a job done.”

    I am highly disappointed in the university’s faculty and adminstration concerning these types of matters. They should know better…especially since this place likes to brag about its “progressive” policies.


       —kena    Mar. 18 '07 - 10:20PM    #
  19. “A temp worker can enter into employment with the University without ever being presented a written description of job responsibilities and requirements. The requirements of the job can change at the whim of a supervisor without the temp employees’ consent or knowledge. The University doesn’t even have a basic contract for temp workers to sign…that’s up to the departments (most of whom don’t bother)... Temp workers also have no formalized recourse for disagreements with their superiors or other agents of the University. No grievance procedures, no arbitration, no nothing unless they can afford to hire legal counsel (or the dept. happens to be very progressive)... Many people take issues like this for granted, but they are very important to the people working under those conditions.”

    I can’t help but laugh at some of these objections. You act like these kids are working in a freaking sweatshop. They’re working at the Michigan Business school and are being paid a wage commesurate with what I would expect a student to make working at a student position. I made 8.50 last year working as a research assistant. I made 8.50 the year before that working retail at Bivouac.

    Grievance procedures? Contracts? Detailed job description? An ELECTABLE manager? Health care? I hate to sound like a 60 year old man, but who the hell are they kidding? These are student positions. Show up. Do your job. You don’t like it? Quit. Find another job.


       —Daniel Adams    Mar. 19 '07 - 07:31PM    #
  20. “Grievance procedures? Contracts? Detailed job description? An ELECTABLE manager? Health care?”

    One more thing on this… I find that the organized labor movement and their supporters are often guilty of confusing basic (and reasonable) minimum standards that all workers should enjoy with privileges that go along with seniority, education, hard work, etc. Two years from now, I expect to be employed as a lawyer for some firm somewhere. I do not expect to have a detailed job description; I expect to do what my boss asks me to do. I do not expect to have—nor have I ever heard of—an electable manager. (Seriously. What the hell is that? Do these exist?)

    Bottom line: I think this is a great idea, if these kids had a list of demands that was reasonable. By reasonable, I mean demands that should be afforded temporary university employees working in positions which are fundamentally designed as little more than ways for students to make a few bucks to pay for books and pizza. Health care? They’ve got to be kidding.


       —Daniel Adams    Mar. 19 '07 - 08:26PM    #
  21. Wow Daniel: you’ve got your piece (or are about to), so screw everybody else.

    Thank goodness many people don’t just ‘move on’ every time they encounter something they don’t find desirable…nothing would ever change for the better.

    Nothing ever improves unless people work together to affect change…unions have been a very effective tool for change.

    EVERY worker is entitled to the same basic rights such as access to grievance procedures and contracts. It doesn’t matter what position they hold, and they certainly aren’t commensurate with wage levels.
    Most of the world believes that health care is a fundamental human right (but not here!).

    Why don’t these people deserve these basic rights? Because you didn’t choose to pursue them when you were in a similar position? Or is it because they haven’t entered the profession of law?

    Maybe these people don’t believe their positions are just ‘ways for students to make a few bucks to pay for books and pizza’...


       —kena    Mar. 20 '07 - 01:01AM    #
  22. When Mr. Adams shows up for work at his new job at the law firm…

    ...and his new boss hands him a plunger and mop and points him toward the restroom’s overflowing toilet…

    ...I wonder if Mr. Adams will suddenly discover the merits of a job description.


       —Michael Schils    Mar. 20 '07 - 01:24AM    #
  23. Michael:

    If they want to pay me a lawyer’s wage to clean bathrooms, my only question is: Where do you keep the mops?


       —Daniel Adams    Mar. 20 '07 - 02:00AM    #
  24. Kena:

    For the record, I support universal health care. I do not, however, support making employers pay for private health care for all their employees. I can’t see how that is efficient or economical. I am interested, however, to see your polling data suggesting that the world believes that universal health care is a fundamental right. I had no idea the populations of India and China were so progressive.

    I don’t understand how my current educational status and employment plans have anything to do with the issue at hand. Would you be more inclined to agree with my argument had I made it two years ago when I was an undergrad making 8 bucks an hour? If so, why?

    Even if I accept the point that universal health care is a basic right, is the right to fire your boss similarly universal? If yes, I’d be interested to know how this could be true, given that I’ve never heard of such a thing.

    These are tech support staff. Have they been made to clean bathrooms, as Michael suggests? Probably not, but neither of you have said precisely why it is that they need defined job descriptions and employment contracts, leading me to believe that you’re both either (a) clueless or (b) supporters of employment contracts and job descriptions for all employees in all cases. If (a), well, I’ve got nothing for you. If (b), and if they’re not actually being forced to do things which one would consider outside of what a tech support staffer should be doing, then what does this say about their demands? “Pay a lawyer to draw up a contract for me and my friends so that we can continue to do the stuff that we should be doing.” Huh?

    I tend to support unions, and agree that unions have been a positive force in this country and worldwide. But this list of demands doesn’t strike me as a productive use of unionization. Rather, it seems to me a product of a fundamental misunderstanding of both the nature of employment generally and of the nature of these jobs in particular. Being employed is about doing things you do not want to do. These are students—they are not, unlike the guy working the counter at the nearest WalMart, economically shackled to this job. I’ve hunted for 8 dollar an hour jobs in Ann Arbor and have never wanted for lack of one. Don’t kid yourselves: If they hated this job, they’d get another one. More likely, they like this job, and want to like it even more by making demands of their bosses. They’re free to do that, but don’t ask me to respect it.

    Finally, on a similar note, both my grandparents belonged to unions. One worked on the line at Ford. The other worked in a blast furnace. I can’t put the question to them, but if I could ask them today what they thought of this list of demands—a bunch of temp students making bunk asking for health care and the right to fire their boss—I’m sure they’d have both laughed in my face. Something funky has happened to unions in this country, and this particular issue is my case in point.


       —Daniel Adams    Mar. 20 '07 - 02:38AM    #
  25. Couple of questions, for all of you?

    Are they Temps? Or Students? The Univestiy looks at both these jobs differently. Fine line but it changes a lot of thinking. I don’t know much about healthcare so I have no comment about that.

    Wow a popularity contest for a manger! Interesting, idea I think most politicians approval ratings are well under 50%, lets apply this to everyday life…. Might be a great idea, start at the very top and bring it down. Furthermore, you talk about recalling the manager is he/she new? Problems been going on currently or for a longtime? Lastly, I would love to “Recall” my boss in most every job I have had. My point is you don’t like your boss, or job, get off the pot and find a new one. People had been doing that for hundreds of years.

    From what I hear, the University has a job posting board that anyone can go on and bid on a job. Since May 2006, over 7500 jobs have been posted on that site. So it kinda looks like jobs are around that are fulltime with heath care, vacation and the rest. I work more than one job right now; (about 70 hours a week) I got bills to pay, so I am sorry that they might have to work other jobs to pay bills, lots of people do that to make ends meet. That part makes no sense to me at all.


       —Steven M. Jones    Mar. 20 '07 - 04:07PM    #
  26. Daniel,

    Actually, I don’t really know anything about the U of M situation, I was just commenting because I know it really sucks when you get fired because you couldn’t meet a requirement that wasn’t included in your job description. It’s like you’re ready to do one thing, and then they throw something else at you by surprise. What if you showed up for work in your lawyer suit, ready to do some lawyer work, and they made you clean the bathrooms? And though you tried, you just couldn’t seem to work quickly enough for them because among other things, you were trying not to mess up your lawyer suit. So they fired you. Wouldn’t you have a valid complaint that it was unfair for them to expect you to do something you weren’t prepared (or hired) to do? That’s all I’m saying…

    Your lawyer without ego attitude is refreshing! :-)


       —Michael Schils    Mar. 20 '07 - 04:57PM    #
  27. Why does everything have to be so apparently personal with you Daniel?

    It appears as if every time you come into a blog thread, you immediately go on the attack. My first entry didn’t carry a tone that’s anything like that of your first entry. What’s the deal?

    I’m really not any more ‘clueless’ than you (which is a defamatory statement by the way…or haven’t you taken that course yet?)…I just happen to have different views. I could just as easily label you ‘heartless’, ‘Republican’, ‘neo-Con’, or ‘prick’, but i don’t.
    I’ve been in these situations of helplessness before, and i’m willing to help put in place protections to keep other people out of those situations.

    If you don’t agree, why can’t you just say that? Why do you appear to feel the need to personally attack people who you don’t agree with instead of debating/attacking their arguments?
    This isn’t the Michigan Daily or Fox News.

    Work these tactics to perfection Daniel…you appear to be perfect for the law profession (this is coming from a person who has a family filled with pompous, egotistical lawyers).

    Please…let the attack begin anew…


       —kena    Mar. 20 '07 - 09:04PM    #
  28. “I could just as easily label you ‘heartless’, ‘Republican’, ‘neo-Con’, or ‘prick’, but i don’t.”

    Your self-restraint is impressive.

    “I’ve been in these situations of helplessness before, and i’m willing to help put in place protections to keep other people out of those situations.

    If you don’t agree, why can’t you just say that?”

    Yeah, why won’t he just admit to disagreeing with protection for the helpless?


       —Bruce Fields    Mar. 20 '07 - 09:30PM    #
  29. I’m still worried about the student workers at the business school wanting to make their jobs permanent. What’s that going to do to the rest of us students who want to get those kind of jobs—they won’t exist any longer. I don’t understand why any student would be in favor of this. Those jobs are specifically for STUDENTS, not people who want to work full-time and have benefits; there are other jobs for those people.

    I agree its not fair to hire/fire/rehire people who are really working fulltime, but that’s not the issue with the b-school and the student worker jobs aren’t for that purpose. The student worker jobs are there for those of us who need part-time jobs to help make ends meet while in school. That’s why they are posted on the student jobs website. Making them all permanent jobs would significantly decrease student employment opportunities.

    This whole proposal seems anti-student. I don’t get it.


       —Erica    Mar. 21 '07 - 01:53AM    #
  30. I’ve worked in all sorts of jobs, from waitresss to professor and I’ve never had a contract that outlined my duties in any sort of detail.

    I also worked as a temp for a year when I was trying to get some research experience for grad school right after I finished undergrad. If a union had demanded full-time status, the job simply wouldn’t have been there because it wasn’t in the grant’s budget; instead, they would have been forced to hire two or three part-time work-study students. I was personally glad to have the job because it was a great opportunity. Incidentally, temporary insurance (1 year) is cheap and easy to get.

    I don’t see why eliminating these sorts of positions would be good for anyone. I can tell you from all sides of the equation that good people are really hard to find at universities because the pay isn’t great. If you do a good job in a temp position, people WILL find a way to keep you around. Eliminate those positions, and you eliminate a way for people to get a foot in the door.

    Finally, being able to get along with (and manage) your boss is a fundamental skill that everyone needs to learn. I guess that seems unfair to some people, but that’s why it’s called “work” and that’s why they pay you to do it. If you’re going to formalize a job description, that should be the first line.


       —Anna    Mar. 21 '07 - 02:25PM    #
  31. Kena:

    I didn’t label you (or anyone else) as clueless. Rather, I argued that your seeming lack of knowledge on the actual conditions of their employment suggests that you’re either clueless on the nature of these conditions, or aware of these conditions but of the belief that they’re irrelevant because set job descriptions and employment contracts should be required for all employees, in all professions.

    I think that’s a fair point, all things considered. Feel free to take it as personally as you like. What’s that old saying about heat and kitchens?


       —Daniel Adams    Mar. 21 '07 - 05:53PM    #