After a week of snow, sleet and icy roads, the Labor Action Group has brought to attention new concerns of workers at the University during the winter season.
According to Labor Action Group members, University work policy forces workers to take time off from their accrued leave if they can not deal with commuting conditions or if they must take care of children when local schools are canceled.
School cancellations "present a problem for the lowest wage employees when they depend on [their children's] schools for childcare and the University tells them to come in. It presents a problem for them as parents, employees, and human beings," said Joyce Breeden, a LAG member and a 30-year employee of the Registrar's Office.
LAG members also raised safety concerns.
Breeden said commuting for many low-income workers was treacherous because many tend to live further away, in less-plowed rural areas and drive less sturdy vehicles than some of the more affluent University employees.
"It is difficult financially, physically and emotionally for workers when they have been told to get to work in bad weather conditions," she said.
However, according to Leonard Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operations officer, it is difficult to give leave to many employees because the University is primarily a residential school and also operates a medical center.
"We have to feed our students, treat our patients, clear roads and maintain safety and security," Sandridge said. "The University never closes; it cannot close."
According to Susan Fraiman, LAG member and English professor, the group is encouraging University officials to narrowly define who is considered an essential employee. LAG is also urging the University not to deduct weather-related absences from accrued leave and to offer emergency daycare provisions at the University for staff who must bring their children to work.
"The University should make a very careful survey of who is actually an essential worker," said Nelson Lictenstein, LAG member and History professor. "Basically, right now it's up to the individual supervisor to decide who is essential."
Sandridge said the University tries to understand employees' needs.
"We try to work with our employees the best we can because they are the ones that make the University work," he said.
"We encourage our managers to be as compassionate and cooperative as possible while also knowing there are essential services that must be taken care of," he added.
The Medical Center encourages carpooling in all-terrain vehicles and several University departments also offer to house essential employees in hotels, Sandridge said.