You may have noticed in the Badger Herald [Friday] that there is a story regarding alleged racism in the Memorial Union kitchen. As Director, I take issues such as this seriously and am deeply committed to ensuring that the Union remains a workplace free of bias and discrimination. Because of that, [Friday's] story is unfortunate for several reasons.
First, it is based entirely on a fabricated set of half-truths and innuendo that appeared in a press release yesterday written by two stewards from AFSCME Local 171. As many of us learned long ago, simply saying or writing something does not make it true. Such is the case here. An attempt has been made to string together unrelated incidents that occurred years apart from each other. The writers have then inserted unrelated instances of disciplinary action that were taken against individuals in the kitchen in an attempt to make a case for retaliation by our management team. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The alleged acts of racism occurred in 2000 and 2002. In each instance we were eager for an independent review to take place regarding the allegations because we wanted the assurance that such a review would provide. As a result, each incident has been investigated by one or more of the following campus agencies: UW Police Department, the Equity and Diversity Resource Center and the Classified Human Resources Department. All agencies have concluded there was no evidence of malfeasance and the original accusations were groundless. In fact, it is important to note that the alleged victims never actually filed a complaint. In each case, members of Local 171 have filed the complaint against the supervisor.
Second, the most recent attempt to keep these fabricated issues alive has involved a series of letters from the AFSCME Local 171 president to myself and Chancellor John Wiley. I've included copies of this correspondence for your review. You will notice that in the last letter from the Chancellor to Local 171 he invites them to bring specific facts forward. This was on June 1. The Chancellor's staff is still waiting for their response. I will re-iterate here what I said in my letter to the local president:
"Let me assure you that discrimination of any kind is not tolerated at the Wisconsin Union. When a victim of discrimination brings a complaint forward, he or she is afforded complete confidentiality as well as the necessary resources and support to have the complaint fully investigated. The situation's you describe appear to involve previous employees of the Wisconsin Union, none of whom filed complaints while under our employment. However, I would still encourage them to come forward at this time if they choose. We would take their complaint seriously and respond appropriately." This is still the case.
Third, the blog that is mentioned in the press release from Local 171 and in the paper [Friday] goes into exhaustive detail of the purported sequence of events that has occurred. I have personally read the entire blog. It contains the same set of fabricated half-truths that appeared in the press release. What I found fascinating is that the pictures and images used to depict the Memorial Union kitchen and the employees who work there have nothing to do with the Memorial Union or our staff members. These are pictures of people we do not even know, working in some unidentified kitchen.
Finally, I must ask myself why these long-ago settled issues are being brought up at this time. If it has anything to do with the timing of the upcoming vote on the Student Union Initiative, I am deeply concerned. The students have worked too hard, too long, and involved too many people to have this important project hijacked by unsupported and previously disposed of claims of racism. Particularly when those claims are being created by the very people who should support an initiative that will guarantee better working conditions for staff as well as grow state jobs.
I sincerely hope that I am wrong about any possible connection between this most recent media ploy and the Initiative. However, I continue to be disturbed at the vindictiveness of some individuals and their inability to work for the larger and common good. If you are as well, I hope you'll join me in drowning out the voices of discord and advancing this important cause for the Wisconsin Union.
Wisconsin Union Director