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October 4, 2013

University clarifies controversial elevator policy

The University has ended a controversial policy that barred uniformed service staff access to the Administration Building elevators from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. President Robert Zimmer sent an e-mail to Facilities Service staff explicitly rebuking the policy yesterday, four months after a University locksmith filed a formal grievance against the University.

“I recently learned that a number of communications [that service workers] received about use of the Administration Building elevators misstate and misinterpret University policy. Let me state in the simplest of terms what the policy actually is: the elevators are for everybody’s use,” Zimmer said in the e-mail.

The “number of communications” Zimmer’s e-mail refers to are exchanges between union and University representatives following the submission of the grievance on May 30. The exchange includes an official statement of the University’s position on the policy, written by Gayle Saxton, director of labor relations.

“In the event maintenance or repair work is required during high-use periods, the University expects that it be performed in such a way as to minimize the disruptive impact on the operations of the University. To this end, the University has requested that maintenance and repair workers should normally use the public stairway in the Administration Building rather than the two public elevators,” Saxton wrote.

According to Steve Hobbs, a University engineer and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 Council President, the University’s response represents the first time since the policy’s implementation in the mid-2000s that it has been written explicitly. The previous policy was only verbally stated.

The issue came to a head when two locksmiths with medical conditions were told to repair locks on the fourth floor of the Administration Building during the day. Stephen Clarke, the locksmith who originally responded to the emergency repair, has had two hip replacement surgeries during his 23 years as an employee of the University. According to Clarke, when he asked Kevin Ahn, his immediate supervisor, if he could use the elevator due to his medical condition, Ahn said no. Clarke was unable to perform the work, and Elliot Lounsbury, a second locksmith who has asthma, was called to perform the repairs.

Lounsbury also asked Ahn if he could use the elevator to access the fourth floor, was denied, and ended up climbing the stairs to the fourth floor.

Following the incident, Clarke filed the grievance on the grounds that the University was violating the Health and Safety portion of the contract between the union and the University, the Civil Rights Act regarding discrimination against members of organized labor, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“I mean it really comes down to an issue of are we being treated as employees of the university? We’re not second-class citizens,” Clarke said before Zimmer officially reversed the policy. “The University is there to set an example for the rest of society to be good citizens, to not practice this kind of discrimination.”

Prior to the reversal of the policy, SEIU Local 73 had planned to host a rally Wednesday demanding that the University reverse the policy. Fliers had been posted since late September. Since Zimmer’s decision, Hobbs said the rally has been cancelled.

“Every time that they know the students are getting involved, they notice,” Hobbs said, attributing the reversal in part to the support of students in Students Organizing United with Labor and Graduate Students United.

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