When the Union Leadership Team announced they would be closing down the Travel Center in the Memorial Union after being open for more than 30 years, they promised that there would be student involvement in the re-direction process of the Travel Center services. The Union held two public input sessions ? which were barely advertised ? and ultimately, the Union Leadership Team did not implement any of the suggestions made by the students and student employees.
I know this because I was there for both input sessions. I felt my input would be helpful as a student and a two-year employee at the Travel Center. I also went before Union Council ? the student governing board at the Union ? on two different occasions to voice student opposition to closing the Travel Center and presented a petition with nearly 3,000 signatures to the Union Leadership Team. Despite these numerous and frequent communications with the Union administration, the Travel Center was permanently closed, rather quietly, in summer 2007.
One of the Union?s responses to last week?s letter alleging student employee mistreatment and deteriorating management of the Union was made by Union President John Barnhardt. He suggested student employees contact Union Council with their concerns. As with the situation with the Travel Center, it is apparent that student input to Union Council and the Union Leadership Team often has little or no effect on outcomes at the Union.
Another Union response to the letter, made by the Director of the Union, Mark Guthier, suggested that only 33 students ?chose? to sign the letter. Despite being a student employee at the Memorial Union for nearly three years now, I was never notified that a letter was being drawn up to be submitted with signatures from Union employees. Had I known about this letter in advance, I would have signed it as well ? and I believe many other employees would have done the same, had they been notified about the letter in advance.
Mr. Guthier additionally claimed that, ?It is difficult to understand how less than 5 percent of the student staff represents the entire ?student voice? at the Union.? Five percent of the student staff ? which I feel is an understatement because many student employees that I know simply have not spoken up yet about their concerns ? is a significant number and should be addressed very seriously. And even if it were just a handful of students who voiced concern about the Union, their concerns should be addressed.
Unfortunately, it seems that student employee concerns are simply being dismissed. The fact that Union management has no plans to investigate these concerns has upset many student employees ? myself included ? and says a lot about the current Union administration.
Since student and employee concerns are not appropriately being addressed by the Union Leadership Team and Union Council, I suggest students take the following actions. First, students should submit a referendum to ASM to amend the constitution of the Wisconsin Union so that student representatives on Union Council are no longer appointed but are elected instead. This action would hold student representatives on Union Council accountable for their actions or non-actions. Second, student employees should contact the Student Labor Action Coalition and the AFSCME Local 171 union to discuss forming a Student Labor Union like the one that once existed on campus less than a decade ago. These actions will ensure that student concerns are appropriately addressed in the future.
Memorial Union employee
UW senior, political science, German and European studies