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Attention, Duke employees

ALL EMPLOYEES ARE EQUAL BUT SOME EMPLOYEES ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS

So implicitly says the Duke Human Resources policy. HR's Web site offers "uniform information in order to assure equitable and consistent applications of [its] policies," which are fairly clear.

Among them:

"Duke provides eligible university staff with accrual of up to 12 sick days per year with pay for personal illness."

"Appropriate corrective actions should be taken when a staff member accumulates seven (7) or more instances of unscheduled time off or eight (8) instances of tardiness within a rolling 12-month period."

"Corrective action" can range from oral warning to first written warning to final written warning to termination. Based on the severity of the infraction, the first offense warrants one of the above four punishments, the second warrants the next most severe, and so on, all the way to termination.

But as far as anyone can tell, those policies do not apply to the 900-odd members of the American Federation of County, Municipal and State Employees Union Local 77. Local 77 represents employees of Housekeeping, Dining Services, Facilities Management and two other divisions in the Medical Center.

The provisions of Local 77's contract mark a significant departure from the HR policies that apply to the University's remaining 25,000 employees.

Like other employees, members of Local 77 who work for Duke full-time are guaranteed 12 sick days per year. The difference comes in the definition of a "sick day":

"In the case of illness or injury, absence of up to 5 consecutive days will be counted as one allowable absence."

If union employees use up all of their sick "days," the contract allows them an additional six "allowable absences" before commencing disciplinary action. Up to two consecutive days constitute each unscheduled "allowable absence." And union employees are permitted up to 16 "tardies" before receiving a written warning. A "tardy" is defined as missing no more than half of an eight-hour shift, or being no more than three hours and 59 minutes late for work.

All of this is in addition to 13 paid University holidays and 20 paid vacation days.

Doing the math, a Union employee wishing to maximize his or her time off can be paid while missing the equivalent of approximately 101 full days, or 807 hours and 44 minutes per year-without disciplinary action. Ultimately, a full-time union employee scheduled to work a standard 260 days per year can take about 40 percent of his or her scheduled-time off, and still receive full pay from the University.

Since most of the union employees work for divisions of Campus Services, their salaries are paid directly by the users of the services they provide (us). And in the event that an employee just doesn't show up, the University (we) will pay for a worker from a temp agency to do his or her job.

Non-union employees can take off less than half that time, and will be fired for behavior exhibited by many of the members of Local 77.

Adapting Orwell, some employees evidently are more equal than others.

And Human Resources' policies constitute yet another set of institutional practices that apply to some and not to others. Luckily, Local 77's contract expires June 30 and will be renegotiated before then.

Various University officials declined to release data on employee absenteeism, but we are left with several unacceptable possibilities.

Some employees could be taking advantage of the policy and not others, thus rewarding workers for not showing up. (The contract stipulates that promotions and pay are based solely on seniority, which is determined by an employee's start date.)

All of the employees could be working hours roughly consistent with others at the University, in which case the policy is unnecessary.

Or, all of the employees could be taking advantage of the policy (I would, given the chance), putting an enormous financial strain on those who have to pay for their services.

I know a great number of dedicated union employees in all of the operations represented by Local 77. Many have been recognized by individual students and Duke Student Government for their support of undergraduates and have shown a sincere commitment to the wider Duke community. But they have no more of a right to skip work than the thousands of other service employees who keep Duke running.

Over the past several years, the University has taken significant and necessary steps to ensure that all of them are paid something resembling a living wage. With Duke essentially guaranteeing them a salary, it's not unreasonable to require that they all show up more than 60 percent of the time.

Applicable portions of the contract are available at http://www.duke.edu/~egw4.

Elliott Wolf is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Thursday.

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