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Home » Clarion » 2023 » March 2023 » GC remote work memo angers staff

GC remote work memo angers staff

Close monitoring of work By ARI PAUL

The Graduate Center, where a recent HR memo insinuating HEOs may be committing ‘theft of time’ was sent out just weeks after faculty, staff and students signed a ‘no confidence’ letter in senior GC management (Credit: Dave Sanders)

A memo in January from David Boxill, the executive director of human resources at the Graduate Center (GC), to staff seemed benign as it explained the implementation of the remote work terms for campus workers, saying, “All full-time and part-time CUNY staff are expected to work in-person at their campus office 70% of their work time.” 

But as PSC members read on, the memo took on a more alarming tone: “All employees are expected to be engaged in work-related activities during their scheduled work days/hours. Engaging in nonwork activities while on work hours will be deemed theft of time and will subject you to disciplinary action. To help ensure that staff are consistently engaged and productive, it is recommended that supervisors: conduct periodic check-ins (30 minutes–1 hour) for status reports on assigned tasks and to provide any needed guidance; periodically hold unit/departmental meetings to share updates, knowledge sharing and team building; schedule supervisions to provide and receive feedback; etc.” 

‘THEFT OF TIME’ 

This, of course, raised questions. Did it mean that supervisors should check in with remote staff every 30 minutes to an hour or hold one check-in that lasted 30 minutes to an hour? The memo explicitly said this directive was meant to fight “theft of time” and the threat of “disciplinary action” raised some additional concerns. Were these check-in meetings some kind of investigatory interview in which workers should have their union representatives, guaranteed under their Weingarten rights? And why were GC staff members being broadly put under suspicion of abusing work time while working remotely? What did “engaging in nonwork activities” even mean? Would answering the door to receive a package count as some kind of deviant activity? Needless to say, the tone and content of the memo didn’t go over well with GC staff.  

DEDICATED STAFF 

“As usual, higher education officers [HEOs] have responded and adjusted to adversity in the workplace – in this case adversity due to the pandemic – in a timely and professional fashion. Many are working on weekends and off hours to be sure to accommodate the needs of the Graduate Center and its students,” said Zee Dempster, assistant director of the GC’s Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean and a PSC HEO delegate. “It seems odd to be chastised for remote work that we have already been performing professionally for close to two-and-a-half years. We have given hours, not stolen hours. We are not thieves. We have used our own technical equipment to bolster productivity.” 

Dempster added, “We have been conducting regular meetings through video conferencing, have we not? We do not require policing, as we perform our duties with honor and integrity. There are annual evaluations in which supervisors can discuss any deviant or insubordinate activity.” 

It’s hard to ignore the context of this letter. It comes just weeks after hundreds of GC faculty, staff and students signed a letter of “no confidence” in President Robin Garrell, Provost Steve Everett and Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Brian Peterson. The letter exposed many problems with GC administration, but a big part of the movement against the campus leadership came from HEOs and library faculty who believe that staff shortages have led to increased workloads for faculty and staff. 

WEINGARTEN RIGHTS 

In response to the letter, the PSC GC chapter and HEO delegates based at the GC held two information sessions on Weingarten rights, which guarantees that union members have union representation during investigatory interviews with management.  

In a public statement, the PSC GC chapter condemned Boxill’s tone, but members also blasted Boxill’s instruction to have supervisors closely monitor staff working remotely and called the whole memo “demoralizing.”  

“Issues of disrespect from management were repeatedly raised in the recent December 5 Community Meeting, the Letter of No Confidence, and at Graduate Council,” the chapter’s letter said. “Workers spoke passionately about the difficulties they witness and experience on the job. President Garrell claimed she wanted to address these, but does encouraging supervisors to micromanage – and potentially find ways to discipline – colleagues amount to constructive change? By courageously speaking up during last month’s discussions, workers demonstrated how deeply invested they are in the GC’s future and in working for the common good. The implication that these same community members are engaged in ‘theft of time’ is insulting.” 

The letter continued, “That management chooses to threaten discipline, even as it overlooks a larger responsibility to address recent worker concerns, is baffling.” 


Published: March 9, 2023

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