Letter to the Editor: Labor and HR must work together

April 20, 2016

My message for this week is that you are not alone, and you don’t have to go through your troubles alone. The path is not always clear to see, and it can often times be daunting, but there is always a way. You may not like the result, but an important part of the journey is the fact that you are taking it.

I understand Chris Henige’s frustrations. Although he is correct that I did not know the specifics to his case, his predicament is certainly not unknown to me. He is not the first, nor will he be the last to be in such a predicament. His solution that everyone should adhere to the current rules and policies with the caveat that those who are derelict of their duties should be disciplined is a fair and just solution.

However, it has been my experience that such a solution does not work. Or more to the point, such a solution can only work if every single person in every position at every level does exactly what is expected of them. To be quite blunt, out of all the cases I have worked over the years, I cannot think of a single instance in which every single person involved did everything correctly and was held accountable if they didn’t.       

This is why it is important to not take the path alone. If there are more professors who agree with Chris that the process is unfair, then you must organize and try to change the process. Whether that means you should unionize, file lawsuits, or appeal to the public – do something and do it together. I don’t have “the answer” for Chris without knowing all the details. My best response right now is to either get a lawyer or to move on from UW-W. But experience has taught me that being right does not mean you will win the case.

Some people involved with Chris’ case may actually receive a reprieve from any discipline simply because of the circumstances. It has been my experience that very few people in the UW System understood how much work the unions did and the ramifications of the weakening of those unions. In fact, one of the reasons why some anti-union employees wanted to see the unions go away is because they viewed the unions as usurping “power” from the Human Resources Departments. But one reaps what one sows, and we have had years of an HR Department overwhelmed with the changes.

The unions made sure that the represented employees did not go through such trials and tribulations alone. Since Act 10, my role has changed, and to this day I still counsel people. Though most employees don’t end up as distraught as Chris, the paths are very similar. Most of us think that we know what is going on around us, and as long as we know we are “right” then justice will be served. But that’s simply not the case.

And what will happen when I leave UW-W? There are only a few of us on this campus who actually have experience representing other employees, organizing, and trying to bring labor, management, and HR together. UW-W is grossly understaffed and underrepresented, so again I urge people not to blame the “others,” but rather question, learn, stand up, reach out your hand, and create a better future together.         

Jeff Ehren

Custodian, UW-W