After Wednesday's column, Wisconsin Union Communications Director Marc Kennedy attacked my piece as being full of inaccuracies and "patently false." At the end of a letter to the editor printed in yesterday's newspaper, he assailed my credibility and that of The Badger Herald, saying, "the article casts doubt on the veracity of the content of the entire newspaper, not merely this one piece." Readers have posed questions, and many are discussing the claims and have asked me to defend my article.
First off, let me state this clearly: I completely stand behind my decision to write and print this article.
For clarification, this was not a rush to judgment in printing the story; I learned of these allegations in the middle of July. From one rumor I was told, I followed up by asking a custodial employee who had intimate knowledge of the day-to-day workings of the Union. After discussing the simple allegation with this worker, he told me of further allegations of mistreatment, not just against the worker we call "Jorge." In order to try and corroborate these accusations, I contacted the few workers who were willing to discuss their treatment. In Jorge's case, his claims matched with the story I was initially told by my first contact, both in terms of Jorge's personal treatment and that of the more general allegations lobbed at Union supervisors.
While I understand the reasoning behind criticism that I was wrong to publish a piece from one person's account, I completely disagree. First off, most of Jorge's account was confirmed by another custodial employee. It was not something that I was told and simply accepted as valid; it was an account made by Jorge that was repeated by an employee who worked with him.
However, what has been overlooked here is the assertion that I, by writing the column, am presenting Jorge's story as the absolute truth. Nowhere did I assert that Jorge's claims are true. While I personally find it hard to believe that a legal worker would falsely assert an "illegal" status, I prefaced every claim with "allegedly" because I do not wish to lend any credence to his allegation if it is not backed by hard facts. Therefore, I decided to simply include his story, the Union's response and leave it for the reader and possibly our news department to investigate.
Yet, there are still those who may deride my integrity for printing what I agree are simply allegations. To them, I say, these allegations were too severe to ignore. In the public forum, many have claims that are shrugged off, proven wrong or accepted. However, many more have no voice in the first place. If Jorge is indeed an illegal immigrant, as he claims, then it is likely his allegations would never be voiced because of the fear of prosecution or would be derided by the public due to his "illegal" status. There needed to be someone to stand behind Jorge with a voice and say, "just hear him out." Because his claims of severe mistreatment seem so entirely egregious and shocking, the general public needs to be alerted to this so that we can all further investigate and reach the truth, whatever that might be. Without its introduction to the public forum, there are no allegations, there are no problems and there are no discrepancies. Until it's spoken, it's neither a lie nor the truth; it simply doesn't exist. Now that these accusations have been spoken, we can begin to sift through them and establish the hard and fast truth.
However, that requires attention from students and the full cooperation of the Union. The problem with Mr. Kennedy's letter is that he does not address the inconsistent statements from Union officials in Wednesday's column. Nowhere does he address the specific allegations of mistreatment. He fails to explain the discrepancy between his claim that the Union checks Social Security numbers and Human Resources Director Tomas Garcia's claim that the Union does not, as of yet, verify those numbers. The contrast of both Mr. Kennedy's and Mr. Garcia's statements are not simply confusing, but a complete contradiction. While he defends the changes made to the Limited Term Employment process, it is obvious there are still problems with the system. He claims I did not report the Union's attempt to reform the LTE process by giving these workers a living wage — that is "patently false." The point in stating, "Which, was increased to a living wage in July 2007," was to acknowledge the change in LTE policy, not simply Jorge's specific situation.
If the Union can provide definitive evidence that all of their employees are legal workers and are — most importantly — treated with the respect, attention and treatment they deserve, then the claims of Jorge may be rendered false. However, because the allegations and the Union's response placed are inconsistent at best, it requires more thorough attention and investigation.
That was the reason for printing this. Not to slam the Union — which once employed me, paid me and treated me well — not to prop up angry workers, not to further a supposed agenda, whatever that might be. I printed this story because the allegations were egregious enough and plausible enough to be placed in the public forum. Now that they are, we can't bury this issue under a mound of statements, confusion and denials. We all must acknowledge that the claims have been made and now must be proven, one way or the other. This is part of the "sifting and winnowing" for the truth. It had to start somewhere and I entirely stand by my decision to start it here.
Jason Smathers ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in history and journalism.