Universities Shouldn’t Have to Sacrifice DEI for Pay Raises

On December 19th, the Legislature's Joint Committee on Employment Relations (JCOER) voted to include University workers in a pay raise for state employees. Although AFSCME Council 32 Local 2412 is delighted that staff at the Universities of Wisconsin will soon see a 6% raise over the next two years, we are dismayed at the price of that increase. We fear the Board of Regents has exchanged control over diversity, equity & inclusion programs for new buildings, funds that never should have been held up in the first place, and our raises. What’s worse, they may have broken open meetings laws, and they left University workers out of the decision-making process.

Let’s be clear.  Diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at the University are not a problem. They help students succeed and improve campus climate. The problem is that the Legislature is playing politics, flogging culture war cliches, and trying to micromanage the Universities of Wisconsin while demonizing the institutions and us, the workers that make those institutions run. Although we welcome an end to the standoff between the Regents and the Legislature, we fear the precedent the deal sets.  As Regent Manydeeds so wisely noted at Saturday’s meeting, there’s a real risk that ideologically motivated concessions by the Universities in return for routine funding will become the norm in future budgets. The caps on new administrative hires and new DEI positions are also a bitter pill to swallow. Many of us already work in understaffed offices doing our own jobs along with those of people who have left without being replaced. The ambiguity surrounding these caps leaves us worried. Most importantly, as Regent Prince noted in that same Saturday meeting, the deal passed without meaningful consultation with the workers who will be most affected.  Yes, shared governance bodies made statements. Yes, some Regents mentioned those statements at the meetings. Still, University workers were not at the table when these decisions were made. 

Local 2412 members stand in solidarity with our colleagues working in diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Although the news that no jobs will be lost is welcome, we are concerned about ambiguities in public statements about how the jobs affected by the deal will change. We encourage workers in those jobs to join the unions organizing on their campuses and work to ensure that all University employees have voices in determining the nature of their work. We remain dedicated to the principle famously outlined by the Regents in 1894, that the University should “ever encourage. . .” the “. . .fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth may be found.” Now is the time for all of us to rededicate ourselves to supporting that mission, building our grassroots power as campus workers, and struggling to minimize the damage this deal will do.

AFSCME 2412 organizes University support staff at the University of Wisconsin Madison and represented University support staff at UW-Madison, the UW System, and UW-Baraboo before Act 10.

December 21, 2023