What the small group of people in front of the McNamara Alumni Center was doing Friday

Not the way to do it. (MPR Photo / Alex Friedrich)

You may recall the address made at the University of Minnesota’s budget forum earlier this month by a steward of the union representing the U’s clerical workers — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

(The U’s response is here. Further response is below.)

Just before Friday’s Board of Regents meeting, the union staged a small protest (about 20 people or so) outside the alumni building — apparently in reaction to the Huron report on the U’s administrative efficiency.

Their message: The May layoff of 25 workers in the U’s Office of Information Technology will hurt the U’s customer service.

Local 3800 president and Humphrey School clerical employee Cherrene Horazuk told me:

“The university eliminated all of the telephone operator positions with the exception of one. There is only one person now. They’ve been replaced with a phone tree. So when you call the university and try to find your way around if you’re lost and you need directions, you used to get a human being who would provide that service to you. Now you get a phone tree and are put on hold forever.”

And from a union press release:

When students call directory assistance, they’ll be talking to a computer, not a human being who cares and can answer their questions.  When physicians are paged, they’ll be routed through a computer switchboard that doesn’t understand an emergency.  When phones and elevators break down, repairs will have to wait until a private vendor can travel to campus.

It sent out this chart and commentary on the IT department before the demonstration:

A quick review of staffing data at the Office of Information Technology shows that, between October 2008 and April 2013, while overall staffing in the IT department fell by more than 14 percent (67 jobs), management staffing increased by 32 percent – an increase of nine jobs.

The ratio of managers to line staff increased even higher after the recent layoffs of 24 staff, 14 of whom were union workers, and all but one of whom was a civil service employees.

The following table illustrates the staff changes.

It Employee Groups

8-Oct

13-Apr

Change Percent change
Total

478

411

-67

-14.02%

Academic Administrative

28

37

9

32.14%

Academic professional

26

31

5

19.23%

Civil service

424

343

-81

-19.10%

Faculty

0

0

0

0.00%

All EE Average

478

411

-67

-14.02%

CLERICAL

24

16

-8

-33.33%

Technical

37

31

-6

-16.22%

HEALTH CARE

0

0

0

0.00%

CRAFTS-TRADES

4

2

-2

-50.00%

EXCLUSIONARY

16

8

-8

-50.00%

LAW ENFORCEMENT

0

0

0

0.00%

NON-INSTR PROF

312

263

-49

-15.71%

NURSING PROF

0

0

0

SUPERVISORY

31

23

-8

-25.81%

SVC-MAINT-LABOR

0

0

0

0.00%

For research purposes, the management group is defined as the academic administrative group.

This data raises the obvious question – if OIT is cutting staff, especially line staff, then why is it hiring more managers?  The titles with expanded staff include “associate to” and “human resources consultant.”

The data referenced above was provided to the Union by the office of institutional research.  According to University officials, these are the same staff lists used by the regents and central administration to formulate policy.

The union also said the U overall has added more than 120 managers but eliminated more than 730 lower-level workers over the past five years.

I sent the chart and commentary to University spokesman Chuck Tombarge, who responded with this:

As you know, the University is working to reduce administrative costs in all areas. The Office of Information Technology (OIT) has embraced this charge and has been a leader on campus over the last year.

As a matter of clarification, OIT has decreased its number of managers from 66 in March of 2008 to 24 as of June 2013. This reflects OIT’s organizational restructuring to be less top-heavy, more efficient and nimble.

He stood by his previous remarks about the layoffs:

On May 20, the University of Minnesota Office of Information Technology (OIT) made the very difficult decision of laying off 25 OIT employees from their positions in data and voice networking services.

Downsizing is always a difficult decision and last resort, and this decision was not made lightly. We sought to ensure that we proceeded in the most fair and compassionate way possible.

The layoffs were in direct response to information technology industry changes, which have led to long-term reductions in work volume in these areas. While the services remain important to the University, staffing and resources greatly exceeded work demand. The changes were consistent with best practices in the IT industry and similar downsizing is occurring throughout the private sector. The employees affected were from all employee groups and included a Professional and Administrative (P&A) senior manager.

Affected employees met with their manager and a representative from Human Resources, who sincerely thanked them for their service and assured them that the layoff was not a result of their performance. They were provided information about their bumping and other rights, severance and benefits. Employees were also asked not to discuss the meeting with their colleagues since they may have been affected but hadn’t participated in a meeting of their own. Following the meeting, employees were asked to retrieve their essential personal belongings and return at another scheduled date to collect remaining belongings. Human Resources and IT managers were available to assist if asked. Human Resources and University policies were followed, and this process is standard and necessary in IT-related positions, many of which have direct access to confidential and sensitive University, student and employee information.

The University has continued to do its best to support the affected employees in their job search and placement. Support and resources have been made available from the University and CareerPartners International, a firm with which the U partnered to provide career counseling and job search training.

This unfortunate situation was handled with sensitivity, consistency among employees and compassion realizing that everyone copes with change in different ways. Unfortunately, difficult decisions are necessary to position our organization for the future. Aligning resources with changes in workload was critical to utilize the University’s limited resources to support the U’s core academic mission and meet the demands of the 21st century classroom.