Employees rally for family time

Members of the Service Employees Union Chapter 119 march outside the Swanlund Administration Building on Thursday in protest the Housing Divison´s decision to implement a seven-day work schedule in which employees, instead of getting the weekends of Online Poster

By Amara Enyia

All University Building Service Worker Rebecca Promley wants to do is spend time with her family. But she fears that with current practices involving the Service Employees International Union Local 73/Chapter 119 and the University, she won’t have quality family time anytime soon.

Promley said she’s never been able to spend time with her family because she used to work the graveyard shift in the Operations and Maintenance department. But she said she became a Building Service Worker (BSW) because of the incentive to eventually be able to work weekday shifts from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Promley was told she would be able to switch after no more than five years. But now, she said this may never happen.

The Services Employees International Union Local 73 staged a rally outside Swanlund Administration building Thursday to protest what they call the University’s unfair practices with members of the union.

According to Union Representative Philip Martini, the University has several shifts for Building Service Workers (BSWs) who are responsible for residence hall maintenance. Shifts include Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weekend shifts and other shifts called “swing shifts.” But Martini said the University decided to overload weekend shifts while slowly phasing out set weekday shifts.

The system is structured so that workers can bid on weekday shifts as a sort of promotion, Martini said. So employees who initially work on weekends can eventually move up to working during weekdays. Employees who have worked longer have seniority, and thus priority in getting weekday shifts.

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Service employees said this gives workers an opportunity to spend more time with family. Promley’s children attend school during the day and her husband works during the day, so no one is home on her days off.

But now, Martini said that with new weekday jobs opening up because some people retired or left, what were expected to be openings for current employees to take on weekday shifts are now being changed to weekend shifts, eliminating the hopes of some senior employees to finally be able to switch to weekdays.

Duane Lybarger, the union’s chapter president, said the initiative reduces manpower and takes family time away from the employees, who generally use the weekends to spend time with loved ones.

“Everything you do is on the weekend,” Lybarger said. “You can’t function with family the same way on weekdays.”

Charles Young, graduate student in educational policy studies and steward for University Housing, joined the protest to help retain his old schedule so he could be with his family.

“I want them not to start revising our shifts,” said Young, who has a morning shift. “They’ve been drastically changing our jobs, minimizing Monday through Friday workers. They can’t be doing that.”

Lybarger said he hopes the protest will “get the point across that this is not a popular thing to be doing.”

Martini said the change could affect security issues and familiarity issues with students living in the residence halls.

Promley said she calls the residents in Weston Hall, where she works, her “girls.”

“They know who I am,” she said. “But once you start putting too many people in that building they start getting nervous because they don’t know who you are.”

Former Snyder Hall resident and junior in LAS David Chookaszian said he appreciated having a consistent BSW in his residence hall.

“It’s nice because it’s kind of like you see a friend everyday, and you see a person that you know everyday,” he said.

But Chookaszian said he’s not sure if having different BSWs clean residence halls will affect most students.

“For most students, they don’t talk to BSWs, but if you have a relationship with anybody you make an effort to talk to them,” he said.

Promley said because the same BSWs won’t consistently be cleaning the same rooms, the quality of work may decline. Chookaszian said the BSWs he met in Snyder Hall took particular pride in their work.

“I couldn’t say if (the quality of work) would go down, but I know with our BSW and with other people who worked in Snyder, they were really into keeping things clean,” he said.

Martini said the University has not made attempts to negotiate with the union and has shown a pattern of phasing out set weekday shifts.

“The University is going outside and is going to hire outside employees for these day shifts so they really thumbed their noses up at us,” he said.

However, University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the University is not obligated to notify the union of their intentions.

“When new people are hired, they will have weekend hours. We have no obligation to inform the union of this,” Kaler said.

Darlene Schweighart, cousin of Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart, has been a University employee for more than 20 years. She said when she began working the weekend shift for University housing, she was told it would take a maximum of a year and a half to get to Monday through Friday shifts.

“A lady (at the rally) told me she would probably stay on weekends for five years. I couldn’t believe that it was that long,” she said. “I’m not sure why they’re doing this.”

Promley said she hopes the rally will force the University to the negotiating table.

“It’s not just hurting me, it’s hurting a lot of people,” Promley said. “There’s no reason for this because we give our students quality work on the weekend just as we do Monday through Friday, and for them to put everybody on the weekend is just ridiculous.”

– John Loos contributed to this report