Employees want concerns heard

Rachel Abbey

KSU staff eager to get voice, wants union

Colleen Chalfant, Library and Information Science graduate student, has worked for more than 16 months at the University Library. Her position, senior library assistant, was among the many that could have become unionized if the vote had passed.

Credit: Andrew popik

They spend hours doing work behind the scenes, filing papers, answering phones and cleaning the floors.

Work done by these staff members affects students daily. From the secretary helping complete forms to the maintenance worker picking up lunchtime messes, these employees’ productivity keeps the university running smoothly. That is just one reason staff satisfaction is important to the university.

In an effort to improve staff satisfaction, KSU Staff United was in favor of creating a union and giving staff a voice in the university community.

The staff recently voted 361-246 not to be represented in a union by the United Steelworkers of America.

“If you have a satisfied staff that sees themselves as a part of the university, they’ll give 110 percent,” said Pearle Bower, senior secretary and core organizer for KSU Staff United.

Despite not attaining the votes necessary to create a union, Bower said KSU Staff United plans to continue its efforts.

“The main issue was not that things would be changed,” Bower said.

Instead, the organization wanted employees to have more say in what happened in their workplace. A potential union could have provided more security to staff despite budget cuts, Bower said.

Ron Kirksey, executive director of University Communications, said the administration wants university employees to have a voice and be able to communicate their problems and questions.

The University Staff Advisory Council holds agenda-driven meetings every month, and the meetings are open to the public, said Karen Watson, employee relations specialist and staff Ombudsman. The council represents many divisions of employees at the university.

Listening posts are meetings designed for staff to express concerns and complaints, ask questions and share information with Human Resources, Watson said. Anyone may attend.

Watson said about 10 to 20 people attend a typical meeting. Listening posts are held every semester at various locations and times around the Kent and regional campuses.

However, some employees feel these meetings need to take more action, which is something a union could do.

“You might take something to a listening post, but that’s as far as it goes,” said Karen Smith, secretary and core organizer for KSU Staff United.

A union would give the opportunity for valid communication between the parties, and allow the employees to better offer constructive information, helping the university to run more effectively, Bower said.

Employees continued to have the students’ best interests in mind during the discussions of the issues, Kirksey said.

Now, the administration looks to move forward and continue communicating.

Ann Flener, representative from the United Steelworkers of America who worked with KSU Staff United, said it is important for all employees, regardless of how they voted in the union election, to work together in their best interest to sort out any issues.

Contact academics reporter Rachel Abbey at [email protected].