A Letter to Pres. Kaler Re: the University Administration’s Decision to Not Close UMN - Twin Cities:

President Eric Kaler | Morrill Hall | University of Minnesota | Minneapolis, MN

January 29th, 2019

Dear President Kaler:

The decision by you and your executive team to cancel classes while keeping the University open shows a disregard and disrespect for frontline staff and student workers.

As you know, we are facing the most extreme cold temperatures in a generation. The National Weather Service is forecasting wind-chills where hypothermia and frostbite can occur with 10 minutes of exposure. The majority of frontline workers use public transportation or park at surface lots and will be walking significant distances to get to their offices/work locations, yet we are still expected to show up to work as usual.

Schools throughout the metro area are closed through Wednesday. Parents, which includes many staff at the U, are scrambling to arrange care for their kids. The University lauds itself as a family-friendly workplace, yet decisions like this contradict that image. Many unionized workers and other frontline staff work paycheck to paycheck and don’t have the extra funds to pay for unexpected childcare costs.

Workers with disabilities and chronic health issues often do not have a significant balance of vacation or sick leave, because they must use their time to address health issues. The decision to stay open means that workers with vulnerable health issues - who most need to protect themselves from the weather, will now be forced to decide whether to burn a precious day of sick leave or vacation to stay safe or to go without pay if they don’t have enough vacation or sick time to stay home.

By leaving the decision to go to work up to individuals and their Departments, you are incidentally forcing the lowest-paid and often most vulnerable members of the university community to brave these elements, while allowing others, who can, to take the time off.

The decision to cancel classes but keep the U open sends the message that you are only concerned about some members of the University community - namely students and faculty. You don’t expect them to brave the bitter cold, but staff are expected to report to work. This includes student workers, many of whom live near the U and walk for blocks to get to their jobs. So, the administration says they are worried about student safety, but if you're a student worker, safety clearly doesn't matter so much. It should also be noted that if student workers don’t work their shift, they will not get paid. They do not have sick or vacation time to cover any time off.

We understand that closing the U is a complicated endeavor, but you figured out how to do it when you forced us to take furlough days for budgetary reasons. It should be noted that similar temps are expected on the Morris campus and the Chancellor made the correct call to close that campus. The Twin Cities campus is a virtual ghost town over the holidays and most weekends. If things can be on a skeleton crew then, it can be figured out in a weather emergency.

The University administration has shown once again a callous disregard for the frontline workers who are behind the scenes every day making this University work.

We call upon the University administration to do the right thing -- do the safe thing for all workers, and for the whole University community-- and close the University due to the extreme cold temperatures.

Sincerely,

Cherrene Horazuk                                                                   Mary Austin

President, AFSCME 3800                                                      President, AFSCME 3937

Cc.       Board of Regents

Kathy Brown, Vice President of Human Resources

Patti Dion, Director of Labor Relations

Minnesota Daily