My thoughts on free breakfasts and free turkeys

November 8, 2011

Years ago I worked in a factory that made fish tanks. Basically, it was a terrible place to work. People were breathing in glass dust, getting injured and working for no benefits, terrible pay in lousy working conditions. There was a recession going on, jobs were scarce and the employer knew it. It was good having a job. They needed us to make their fish tanks. We had bills to pay, it was a job. But, no way were we appreciated. It was kind of like things are today.

Every year my old employer gave each employee a “free” turkey at Thanksgiving.

Some of us talked about forming a union. We wanted to get more people to sign cards for an election. Several of the employees held back, not because the employer was treating them well but because, “the company is not all bad, after all, they give us a free turkey.” Despite the fact that I was supporting a young family, I wanted nothing to do with the damn turkey. I learned how employers can throw crumbs to people and in return some folks will give them their souls.

I feel the same about the so-called staff appreciation breakfast being put on tomorrow for SJSU staff, while at the same time the CSU is looking to raise parking fees 400% or more, pay is stagnated and the faculty are having rolling strikes at CSU campus.

Just as I felt when I worked at the fish take factory, I appreciate the job, but I do not feel appreciated. Then as now, it was a job. Don’t lie to me and tell me we are appreciated. They can put that breakfast the same place I suggested my former employer put their turkey.


Commentary: The True Cost of Contracting Out

September 27, 2010

Rich McGee, the CSUEU Unit 9 Bargaining Unit Chairperson, is among the many union activists in our union who are worried about outsourcing. We are not talking just about the kind of outsourcing we commonly see, where work is transferred off site and in-house staff is eliminated. In addition to outsourcing of major services and the visible loss of large numbers of jobs, McGee is worried about what he calls the micro-erosion of jobs.

“The micro-erosion of jobs is where little bits of our worker’s jobs are taken away, and soon we have no jobs left,” said McGee. A good example of micro-erosion of jobs occurred at San Jose State University. Last Spring SJSU laid off about five percent of its CSUEU represented university employees, while at the same time outsourcing its e-mail services to Google.

When the e-mail system was in house CSUEU represented employees maintained the servers and protected the security of university e-mail. A common task done by CSUEU represented staff was password resets for users who lost or forgot their passwords. Many of the staff who did this were classified as Information Technology Consultants (ITCs.) These ITCs had other duties, few if any of them had resetting passwords as over 50% of their duties. None of them had campus wide ability to reset passwords. This work was distributed. Staff reset passwords only for the employees they themselves supported.

As part of the migration to Google the password reset function was taken away from long-time university employees and transferred to student assistants. These student assistants were given the ability to reset the passwords, and possibly access the e-mail accounts of every student, faculty member, counselor and staff employee at the university.

The “cost” of Google migration for CSU campuses was theoretically zero. But, the real cost as measured in training, lost productivity, weakened security and support of the Google migration has been far from free. In the SJSU example, the CSU system may be saving a few staff jobs and eliminating a few servers while incurring all the expenses listed above and concurrently sacrificing the security and integrity of university e-mail.

The true cost of contracting out state workers jobs, when you add in all factors, has cost our state dearly. SEIU Local 1000 has reported, “By our estimates, the state could save approximately $350 million annually by utilizing state workers to cut unnecessary and wasteful outsourcing in IT, medical services and architectural and engineering contracts.”

The micro-erosion of jobs is especially dangerous to us. There is language in our collective bargaining agreement offering some job protection for university workers when their jobs are eliminated due to contracting out. But, it has been harder to fight the loss of our work when the work being eliminated is spread among a pool of workers. In the SJSU example you had maybe 30 or 40 staff performing these functions as a percentage of their work. The work was contracted out, three workers in the classification that did the work were laid off and the university has argued there was no impact to CSUEU staff of the contracting out.

The micro-erosion of jobs does not even have to result in layoffs to be a threat. Attrition alone can take a toll, as jobs are not refilled as the work is taken away. Less staff paying into the retirement system threatens retirees as well as staff.

Not only does outsourcing take jobs out of the CSU system, it can take them totally out of the state and even the nation. Google has tens of thousands of oversees workers in Bangalore, Gurgaon and Hyderabad, India as well as other nations like China, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. This is only one company. The CSU is outsourcing our jobs and off shoring our tax dollars.

“The state has been unwilling to collect information on private contracts and make it publicly available,” said Marie Harder, a senior information systems analyst and member of SEIU Local 1000’s Outsourcing Task Force. “We need to hold the state accountable to how much tax payer money they waste each year on outsourcing projects that could be done better and cheaper by state employees.”

China manufacturer moves factories to protect low wages

June 15, 2010

According to a recent Business Insider post by Gus Lubin, High-tech manufacturer Foxconn is moving everyone except for iPhone workers to low-wage factories in China’s hinterland to keep wages low.

What is Foxconn?
According to Wikipedia, “The Foxconn Technology Group is a multinational business group and is the largest manufacturer of electronics and computer components worldwide and mainly manufactures on contract to other companies.” According to Lubin, “Foxconn Technology Group is moving hundreds of thousands of workers away from the Shenzhen factory where it doubled wages after a rash of suicides, according to China Daily.” Lubin wrote, “Looks like China will keep wage inflation at bay for awhile yet.”

Why should this matter to us?
Global manufacturing has been in a race to the bottom for a long time. At what point does it become unethical for US consumers, including our universities, to continue to support these kinds of business practices in order to get goods cheaper and cheaper?

In 1914 Henry Ford doubled the pay of his auto workers under the premise that, “since it was now possible to build inexpensive cars in volume, more of them could be sold if employees could afford to buy them.” This is the basic principle of the middle class. What hope does the middle class have in the long run as jobs are destroyed and moved to nations that institutionalize employee abuse?

Something I learned as a shop steward

May 27, 2010


It can be discouraging to be a union shop steward. Short of going to arbitration it can be hard to win a grievance. Unless you get a manager to hear your grievance who is willing to do the right thing, it can take a year to move a case from the first level to arbitration. Short of arbitration, all the hearing officers who hear and judge grievances are managers. Short of full blown arbitration, management owns the destination for grievances.

Sometimes, I was discouraged as a steward. Despite the merits of my cases, it seemed I often “lost”. It was then I learned to stop focusing on winning and start focusing on really winning:

What does that mean?

If you control the journey and your adversary controls the destination, victory is yours when you make the journey the destination.

What is it we really seek to win when we file a grievance? We seek two things, the best possible outcome for our constituent and compliance with the contract.

It costs a lot of time and energy for the employer to process a grievance. If we focus on what we really seek to win, we can win even when we don’t win. My philosophy as a union steward is to file on every violation. If they fail to meet to discuss a grievance, as per the grievance article of the contract, that is another violation of the contract. I will file a second grievance on that and escalate the first grievance. Soon you have a swarm of legitimate grievances!

We own the process, the journey. We decide if and when to file a grievance. We decide how many grievances to file. They may own the destination, whether to grant or deny a grievance. But, we decide when the journey starts and we decide when to escalate a grievance.

If you play a card and it gets brushed aside, what do you do? If you have one you play another card! We can file as many grievances as there are contract violations. We never run out of cards when the contract is being violated. To quote Robert A. Jung, “if you have more cards in hand than each opponent, you may return Death of a Thousand Stings.”

If they know they will have to make the journey every time they violate the contract; the violations will eventually stop. Bad managers who do not follow the contract will clean up their act or will get tired and go away. I have been a union shop steward for over twenty years. It requires diligence, dedication hard work and often, perseverance.

We may not win all, or many, or any grievances, but sometimes that is not the victory to seek. The final outcome is the victory to seek. The focus of our efforts has to be on final outcomes. Whatever it takes to stop abusive recurring management practices and win compliance to the contract, that is the real victory we must seek.

NOTE –> These are my own personal opinions, views, information and perspectives regarding the labor movement in general and our local union, Chapter 307 of CSUEU, the California State University Employees Union at SJSU, San Jose State University, San Jose, California. This in NOT meant to represent the official union position on this or any other matter.

Beware of FUD

April 28, 2010


Beware of Fear Uncertainty and Doubt
I will not give up or be defeated. I remain an optimist we can mitigate SJSU layoffs, saving precious staff jobs and essential services for students and faculty. I see nothing to gain through pessimism. I will not stop trying.

“The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself”
Franklin D. Roosevelt, perhaps the greatest president of the 20th century, was elected President of the United States during the Great Depression in 1932. In his inaugural address he warned Americans of the dangers of pessimism. On March 4, 1933 he said the great words shown above. His words still ring true today, “Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.”

If we give up on our fellow workers who have been given layoff and reassignment we are embracing defeat. If we continue to be vigilant, and only if, are we given a chance at victory. If we quit we defeat ourselves. Let’s not do the work of those whose goal is to gut higher education and embrace ignorance as though it is a noble end.

We need to understand what we are fighting for, we are fighting for the jobs of our union sisters, brothers and through their retention and the continuation of their services; we are fighting for a quality education for our students and the greater goal of an educated citizenry for our country.

In my opinion that is something not only worth fighting for, but critical. If you quit you defeat yourself. The cause is too great to allow that to happen. The stakes are too high. We cannot afford pessimism.

NOTE –> These are my own personal opinions, views, information and perspectives regarding the labor movement in general and our local union, Chapter 307 of CSUEU, the California State University Employees Union at SJSU, San Jose State University, San Jose, California. This in NOT meant to represent the official union position on this or any other matter.

Reasons for concern over Google

April 27, 2010


As the state budget is tightening the CSU is looking for ways to save money. One of those ways appears to be outsourcing to supposedly free service providers. Various campuses in the CSU system are outsourcing, or planning to outsource soon employee and/or student e-mail to Google and/or Microsoft.

Reportedly the vendors are going to be doing this for free. But, is it really free? According to the editor of Wired Magazine, Chris Anderson, who also wrote the book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, “All forms of free boil down to shifting monies around…cross-subsidies.” In other words if they give something away, they have to be making money elsewhere off the free gift. Where are Google and Microsoft making money on this? That question has not been adequately answered as of yet.

The outsourcing also has other unanswered questions; like, what do we do if the plan fails? It is amazing for such a big plan to be executed without a back out plan. One of the basic principles of change management is the need to plan for the unexpected. This includes the need to provide back out if the plan fails and the need to define the criteria on which a decision to back out will be made. So, what is the back out plan? That question has not been adequately answered as of yet.

A mystery also surrounds the issue of displacement. San Jose State University has already outsourced its student e-mail to Microsoft and is in the process of outsourcing faculty and staff e-mail to Google. SJSU has recently announced the layoff of 73 staff members, 21 of these are from unit 9. SJSU Chief Information Officer William Maguire said in a meeting in early 2010, “100 techs at SJSU support e-mail.” If each of tech supports legacy e-mail ten percent of the time, on average, that is the equivalent of ten positions supporting e-mail. Few may actually be supporting e-mail 100 percent of the time; but when the work is contracted out and the positions are cut, it is hard to argue there is no impact.

The classification of the people doing the work also comes into question. Typically the top-level people running the e-mail servers are Operating System Analysts. When there is a problem with an e-mail server it is an Operating System Analyst that fixes it. When that work is contracted out someone will still have to be reporting problems to the vendor, but; it is not likely that person will that be an Operating System Analyst.

A lot of information sent via e-mail between students and faculty is very sensitive. Security and privacy is a major concern. On April 19 privacy and data-protection officials from 10 countries, including Germany, Canada and France sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt. The officials said Google “too often” forgets people’s privacy rights as it rolls out new technologies.

According to a post by Ellen Messmer of Network World, Cloud computing makes IT access governance messier. Messmer said, “IT professionals are finding it harder than ever to set up access controls for network resources and applications used by organization employees, and cloud computing is only adding to their woes, a survey of 728 IT practitioners finds.”

Not everybody is finding outsourcing to Google to be the slam-dunk it appears to be in the CSU system. According to a March 30 article by David Tidmarsh of the Yale Daily News at Yale University, “Information Technology Services has decided to postpone the University’s move from the Horde Webmail service to Google Apps for Education.” The article went on to say, “Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steven Girvin said, “There were enough concerns expressed by faculty that we felt more consultation and input from the community was necessary.”

Few answers to these questions and issues have been forthcoming about these so-called free solutions. There is an old saying, if a deal appears too good to be true, it usually is. As CSU appears on the verge of leaping into the pool of free e-mail for all, maybe we should be looking a little more carefully beneath the surface.

About the layoff procedure…

April 22, 2010

Some SJSU faculty have expressed disagreement with the California State University and our California State University Employee Union’s (CSUEU) seniority based layoff process for staff university employees. Some folks in the campus community have said bad things about our staff employee’s union regarding it.

Remember, this was a process negotiated over many rounds of contract negotiations, over many contract terms, by staff union and CSU management representatives. This agreement was ratified by the staff members themselves; as well as by the CSU trustees. This is not just the union’s process; it is CSU and the union’s process. This is what BOTH labor and management agreed to and this is what the employees ratified!

The staff union has a legal obligation, called a duty of fair representation, to enforce the current collective bargaining agreement (contract) that exists between CSU and the California State Employees Union (CSUEU). Here are the terms of that agreement as it applies to staff layoffs:

Article 24.5 of that agreement says, “The President shall establish the order of layoff for permanent employees in a classification in reverse order of seniority. For employees in classifications with skill levels, the President shall establish the order of layoff for permanent employees in a skill level in reverse order of seniority.”

Article 24.6 of that agreement says, “An employee who possesses documentable specialized skills that are needed for the program, not possessed by other employees in classification(s), or skill levels within classifications, undergoing layoff, may be excluded by the President from the layoff list.” (I have been told there is a strict definition of this, but I am not personally aware of what that definition is.)

If a change of that agreement were to be proposed; it would need to be proposed by the union or management, it would require a meet and confer between the chancellor’s office and union representatives, the drafting of a side letter, then a ratification vote on the part of all represented employees at all the CSU campuses in the sate of California. This is what happened when the furlough agreement was approved last year.

You might want to look at article 24 so you know the constraints that both the union and the university are working under. If the union were to violate the agreement the union could be sued. One more thing, this is a contract between CSU and the union. No other party is a party to the contract agreement. Faculty have as much right to get involved with this process as staff have to get involved with the faculty’s retention, tenure and promotion procedure.

Of course we want to save as many jobs as possible. We want to stop layoffs!

But, if there is to be a layoff, then we (the union and CSU) need to follow the procedure we agreed to. It is our process!

Steve Sloan

NOTE –> These are my own personal opinions, views, information and perspectives regarding the labor movement in general and our local union, Chapter 307 of CSUEU, the California State University Employees Union at SJSU, San Jose State University, San Jose, California. This in NOT meant to represent the official union position on this matter.