Workload, Hidden Labor, and Furloughs

June 02, 2020 / PSU-AAUP

One thing that has become even more clear with the implementation of furloughs amongst our union represented employees is the existence of long-term systemic workload issues.

For too long now, the University has exploited workers for their care and concern of delivering the best possible services and experience to students. In the spring of 2019, PSU-AAUP hosted an event on “Hidden Labor” initiated by members of our caucuses, including those representing women, persons of color, and queer identified. They all shared the experience that with regard to work, many of us pay a “cultural tax” and perform “hidden” (or is it visible?) labor in order to meet the significant needs our students ask us to. 

With that unbalanced workload in mind and during times of furlough, it is very important that the University feels our absence. The University stated explicitly in last Wednesday’s town hall that the observed impacts of these furloughs will be used as a data point in making future budgetary decisions. If they do not see a negative effect of these furloughs, they will reasonably infer that the University can operate with a permanent 20% staffing reduction. As most of us know first hand, this would be detrimental to PSU’s future.

If you are furloughed: While we understand that not doing 20% of your work will impact students and colleagues and that we all care greatly for our students and the colleagues whom our work serves. This is an opportunity to demonstrate the value of our labor to this institution and that the 20% workload we perform (not even counting our unpaid “hidden” labor) is an asset to our community and must be addressed by the administration. Also, we must remember that in order to do our best work, we need to be at our best. That requires a supportive working environment that centers the wellness of its employees. Working beyond our individual capacities necessarily reduces the quality of work we can perform, and leads to burnout, exhaustion, and turnover which has a further negative impact on our students.

If you are not furloughed: First, it is critical that we understand that the work of many of our colleagues will be reduced. Things will operate more slowly, and some things will simply not get done. We must show patience with our colleagues who are furloughed and remember that the administration made the decision to reduce workload in order to save costs, and it is not the fault of any individual worker. Second, it is equally important that we do not take on any new or additional work ourselves. Much like the averted SEIU strike, it is incredibly important that we let the work of furloughed employees go undone. If we do not do this, if we take up the work of our furloughed colleagues, then (a) that will become work which we will not be able to put down again while (b) we will have demonstrated to administration that our colleague’s jobs are expendable.

Remember: when students or colleagues don’t receive the support they need, it is because of the furlough and the system which exploits workers who care deeply about their research, teaching, and student service work, not because those of us that are furloughed have failed in our duties.  

We recommend that you report adverse effects of this furlough directly to the President’s office so that administration is made aware of the consequences of staffing reductions at PSU:

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