U workers upset by unpaid break


When Larry Ripp receives his first 2011 paycheck, he knows to expect a smaller amount than he’s used to.

As a facilities management employee on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus, Ripp, along with his co-workers, will be required to take unpaid time off work during the winter closure.

Starting Dec. 24, the University will institute its first-ever campus-wide closure.

Until Jan. 2, all non-essential buildings will be closed to the general public. The heating and electrical amenities will be dialed down to weekend levels.

As part of the closure, the University instated three mandatory furlough days – days off work without pay – for anyone who is not a faculty or professional and administrative (P&A) employee, lasting Dec. 28 to Dec. 30.

The furlough, along with the closure, is intended to save money for the University during a holiday season when most of students and faculty members are off campus.

But Ripp, along with other employees required to take the furlough, are resentful of the policy they felt they had no say in creating. Requiring employees to take the three furlough days in one week means they fall in one paycheck, cutting that check short.

 “It was unfair,” Ripp said. “When you live paycheck to paycheck it makes it more difficult to pay bills.”

Some staff, however, will still be required to work.

Some University functions, such as care for lab animals, experiments or patients, require around-the-clock attention. Each department will determine their “essential employees” to work during the closure, University spokesman Dan Wolter said.

Those workers will still be required to take the furlough days at another point during the year.

There will be staff on campus checking buildings each day for possible issues, Brad Hoff, University Facilities Management chief administrative officer, said.

A skeleton crew will be onsite to handle any emergencies caused by the lowered temperatures, he said.

While most classroom and office buildings will be closed to anyone without authorized access, Boynton Health Service and the University Recreation Center will be open limited hours.

The closure will save $160,000 in energy costs, Hoff said, but most of the savings will come from cutting labor.

Last spring, the University Senate voted to have a 1.15 percent pay reduction for faculty and P&A staff. The closure and the furlough plan were also discussed.

The pay cuts and furloughs combined will save an estimated $18 million, Wolter said.

“No one likes to have their pay cut or take furlough days, but most groups understood the severity of the economic situation,” he said.

Ripp explained that each year he has the option to take seven days off without pay. He was notified by his union, the Teamsters Local 320, during the summer that this year, he would be required to take three of those days during a specific timeframe.

Union leaders attempted to negotiate that initiative with hopes of allowing employees to choose when to use their days off, but the University wouldn’t budge, Ripp said.

“Had I been allowed to pick my furlough days I would have picked more days. As it is, I am only going to take the three days because I resent having to take them in a row,” he said. “They would have saved a great deal of money had I taken more furlough days.”

Amy Short, sustainability director in University Services, is a member of the P&A staff, but said she has been asked to stay away from campus while getting her work done.

She said it’s a “good idea” to cut pay rather than cutting jobs. The employees in her office aren’t happy to have the pay cut, but prefer it to losing their jobs.