Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Yesterday I was too angry to write a proper post. (Not that my posts are proper, really, but you know what I mean.) This afternoon I find that I am still angry. I do not want to get emotional on here - emotion is generally boring to read (especially mine - I tend to go on and on) so instead I'll explain why I am angry.

A few weeks ago a colleague found out she needed major surgery.

The university where she works part-time (the same day as I work there) responded by being very sympathetic and telling her not to worry, they'd find somebody to cover the five days she will miss. She is only there once a week. There were six weeks of semester left when she told them about her illness, and she was able to work one more week and sort out the details of passing her classes along to another teacher.

However, a couple of days before she went into hospital she received an envelope from the university containing a resignation letter for her to sign, and informing her that she will not be paid for the second half of June. This also means that she will not be paid over the vacation. Our pay is calculated on a monthly basis. (People who work for universities that pay per class, and which don't pay during the vacations, are paid more to compensate for this.) This resignation was presented as just a formality. They would rehire her in September, for the second semester, they said.

New teachers at that school, we were informed two months ago, will be hired at a lower rate of pay than existing teachers. Existing teachers' pay is not affected. (We were supposed to be grateful for this.)

Those are the facts.

We suspect that, besides getting out of paying her for the vacation, the university wants to rehire her in September at the new, lower rate of pay, although they have not actually said this. She has been working there for years with no pay increase AT ALL. We all have. (It is the lowest paying of all the places I work already.)

Fortunately we formed a union branch there a couple of years ago, having heard rumours that our working conditions were going to change. Subsequently we were told by the university that our working conditions would not change, and that the rumours were wrong. However, I suspect that the only reason our pay was not cut this year was that they were afraid of the union. Many universities have cut teachers' pay, and if there is no union there is not much anybody can do about it.

When we formed the union, only four people joined. Nobody wants to 'make trouble,' and we were seen as troublemakers by the other teachers. (This reputation of union members is fostered carefully by the media - and practically everybody else - here. Unions disturb the Wa.)

My ill colleague is one of the four teachers who joined. Another colleague is the branch chair.

Part-time workers get no sick leave under the Labour Standards Law (or whatever it's called).

However, workers who work one day a week for more than four and a half years (why the odd number?) are entitled to three paid days off a year. These carry over for a year. This means that our colleague is currently entitled to six paid days off. At the time of the union branch formation, the university signed an agreement stating they would abide by the Labour Standards Law. They also assured us, personally, that they greatly appreciated us and wanted to treat us well. They seemed somewhat hurt that we wanted to form a union branch there at all.

They appreciate their part-time teachers so much that when one of them becomes ill they respond by telling her that they will stop paying her, a couple of days before she is due to go into hospital for major surgery. They did not even tell her to her face. They did it by letter, after she had taught her last class before going into hospital. The whole thing makes me sick with anger, and it is particularly worrying that she almost signed the letter, as she was feeling harassed and busy with last-minute arrangements, and it was presented to her as a reasonable thing to do. Fortunately her daughter contacted the union branch chair, who was able to tell her to stop her mother from signing the resignation letter. We told her to hold off until we had contacted the union to find out what her rights were.

This is a very wealthy, private university. It has no problems attracting students, as many universities do, now. It is full of the rich children of rich alumni.

The union chairperson has contacted the union, and we are hoping that the whole thing will be sorted out without any fuss. The university prides itself on its old-fashioned 'gentlemanly' reputation, and they will not want publicity that paints them as money-hungry ghouls, feeding off the misfortune of an ill, vulnerable employee. This is, of course, exactly what they are.

Gentlemanly, MY ARSE.

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Cheryl said...

You know, I always read your lovely blog and often want to comment, but find that anything I could say would be crass by comparison.

What sods.

Heres a bit of rumour mongering for you, call it counteractive measures:
'An honourable employer welcomes the Unions, the lack of cases brought against him only proves his honour'. Or something similarly formal and airtight and unanswerable, the way they seem to like it in Japan?

Ooh still fuming.

melinama said...

It's interesting that educational institutions, because of the so-called prestige of a post there, have succeeded in keeping their teaching people cowed. This happens in the U.S. too. Everyone was so astonished at Yale when the grad students decided to unionize because they are exploited on a routine basis.

Badaunt said...

Cheryl: We're hoping that's what the university is going to think - that they won't want the union involved because of possible adverse publicity that reflects badly on them. We're stressing that side of things, and trying to give them the opportunity to claim it was a 'misunderstanding' before taking it too far.

I'm willing to bet it has nothing to do with the chairman of the board, who was the one (I've heard) to put a stop to the last silly plans dreamed up by the head of OUR DEPARTMENT which would have completely screwed up our employment situation. He reportedly said that he was happy the way things were, and so were the staff, so why change things?

Melinama: Here the higher the status of the university the worse they pay, along the same reasoning, I suspect. We're supposed to eat and pay rent with prestige, apparently, in some mysterious manner not explained to us.

This is why I'm rather fond of my low status jobs. They pay a lot better, and the lowest status one even gave me a pay increase, once. (But only once, and unannounced, and I'm still not sure why. I was afraid to ask in case it turned out to be a mistake.)

Gordon said...

"What sods"

Totally agree although the first few words that sprung to mind were far more... let's say "colourful".

Anonymous said...

Wow. That is just so unbelievable that they would treat someone like that. I hope the union is able to work it all out. I was fortunate enough to work in a district with a really strong union and it made all the difference for several people. I don't know why the world thinks teachers/professors always deserve to get the shaft.


Robert said...

What is it about academe? The people who labor there are amazingly underpaid for their qualifications and yet the universities make it all worse with hostile policies like this. I'm glad I'm out but I worry about herself, who is going back into it in the fall after being burned once already.

Lippy said...

You're right - it's ghoulish. Not to mention dirty, deceitful and unbelievably dishonourable. It's a loathsome greedy attitude, prevalent everywhere, that wants not just something for nothing, but everything - and then some.

Fingers crossed they'll be shamed into behaving.

Mary said...

I hope your union really sticks it to them. What are universitites if not the instructors and teachers? And yet they're treated so poorly.

Argh. I hope your friend is okay.

Anonymous said...

First and foremost, I hope that your friend becomes well again.

Next, I just have to express a level of consternation. How is it that you came to expect that a university or any other business is responsible to you and others for providing very expensive benefits to part time workers? By your own admission, your friend works one of every 6 days. I can understand why you would be frustrated that there isn't 'something more'. But to form a labor union and then dis the other hard-working folks who don't join your bandwagon is remarkable, to say the least.

The world doesn't revolve around any one person. Educations of higher learning are just businesses that have to show a 'profit' like all the others. That's a fact of life and you are already well-aware of it, even if you refuse to accept it. If you have some other expectation or romanticize a separate outcome, that's really the burden you bear--not the insitution that is composed of bricks and mortar and without a soul. To expect otherwise is simply not living in the real world. Lots of people outside of academia already understand that. What we don't understand is the obsession of so many within academia to expect things other than reality.

Best regards on all your endeavors.

Badaunt said...

Anonymous: Your consternation is misplaced. My sick colleague was not expecting any 'expensive benefits,' or even any cheap benefits. She was not expecting to be paid for the classes she did not teach, even though she is entitled by law and by the contracts and agreements the university has signed to have three paid days off a year. She did not ask for these, partly because she didn't even know about them. None of us did. In other words, we do not even expect what we are entitled to by law. (We are not stupid enough to expect it in future, either.)

She did also not expect to be asked to resign without any prior consultation, when she fully expects to be back at work for the second semester. She did not expect to lose her vacation pay - which is not actually vacation pay, it is pay for work she has already done. (It is paid over 12 months, and that is taken into account. Some universities pay per class, others spread the pay over twelve months. The pay is adjusted accordingly.) We do not get any benefits - at all, at any of the places we work. We work more than full-time hours spread over several places because it is almost impossible to get a full-time permanent position if you are a foreigner, no matter how well-qualified you are. This is not as racially biassed as it used to be, as conditions for Japanese university educators are getting worse as well, these days, and we're ALL getting screwed - including the students who pay for this 'education' from overworked, tired, underpaid teachers who are only at each university once or at most twice a week, and so are not available to the students except in class time. (And believe me, this particular university is doing VERY well out of the students. It is a rich university - and the lowest paying job I have.)

My colleague, while not expecting any benefits, also did not expect to lose her job - and some of her pay for work she had already done - and then be 'rehired' at a lower rate of pay. Would you work somewhere for ten years or so with no pay increases, be bilked out of some of the pay for work you had already done, and then accept a pay cut?

It is only because the university is treating our colleague so unreasonably that the union has been consulted at all - and not by her, but by her concerned colleagues. The university signed an agreement to abide by the labour laws of this country and to consult the union before changing the working conditions of any of its members. It has done neither.

She honours the contract she signs yearly at that place. They have shown that they do not - and they wrote the contract.

We do not expect the university to have a 'soul.' They present themselves as 'gentlemanly.' We never had any such illusions, and formed the union two years ago because we have, otherwise, NO recourse if/when our employers cheat us - and it happens a lot, here. We cannot afford the law. Only large institutions can afford the law. That's the way it works here. It doesn't matter if the law is on your side theoretically if you cannot pay a lawyer and court costs. Many universities ignore the law, because they can. This happens often.

If the university had honoured the contract they wrote themselves, and the agreement they signed to follow the law (which they are supposed to do anyway), none of this would have happened, and they would have had to pay nothing extra - no benefits, and no extra pay for the teacher filling in. In other words they could have preserved their lovely facade as 'old-fashioned gentlemen' at no cost to themselves.

The world may revolve around money-making institutions rather than around people (something it's very difficult to ignore, here), but I do not understand your reasoning that just because the university is there to make money it should be allowed to ignore its legal and contractual obligations.

Mary said...

well said.