Conflict Or Compromise…Cooperation

Success is incremental.  I often marveled at the television commercials for Publishers Clearing House, where a representative of the company knocked on the front door of some, extremely lucky, person and presented them a giant check that effectively wiped away their financial concerns for the rest of their life.

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Many years ago during some challenging times that my department, Building Services was experiencing,  I decided that more people needed to understand the value that the civil service community brought to Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale.  I had been a member of the Civil Service Council, which is the elected group who, at that time, represented over 2,000 colleagues. Having been a member of the group for 10 years, I had been pleased to never be an officer for the organization.  I had enjoyed a wonderful career where my supervisors recognized my efforts and had been fortunate to attain every promotion available to me.  But, it was clear to me that someone needed to attempt to communicate with  the university’s chancellor regarding his most valuable and loyal staff.  I, actually, did not want the job and felt certain that I would not be elected, by my Council colleagues, for the position.  That realization comforted me as I did not desire a leadership role and had but a few years until my retirement.  To my dismay, I was elected to represent the largest group of employees on the Carbondale campus.  I felt a little sick to my stomach and doubted that I could be effective…but I knew that I had to try.

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I have never enjoyed conflict.  All gains and progress that I have made has been attributable to talking together with the powerful and the powerless.  So, I began to meet, on a monthly basis with Chancellor Wendler.  I found the Chancellor to be a brilliant man and easy to communicate with.  He was a man from a diverse background and had, at one time, worked as a carpenter.  Our discussions were wide ranging and colorful.  Dr. Wendler had a heart for the poor and needy.  During my, years of meeting with the Chancellor…I was admonished by some of my colleagues to demand our rights!  I would not waiver from my bedrock philosophy of, praising a person from the mountaintop and constructively criticizing another…only in private.

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Chancellor Wendler understood the sacrifice of our veterans and listened carefully to the Councils pleas for a recognized holiday to honor our heroes.  Our campus owes him a debt of gratitude for his passion in ensuring the reality of our request.

Another vital issue that Chancellor Wendler spearhead was to give many members of the AceS union, parity raises, where data  illustrated the they were being paid below the norm for their, primarily, clerical positions.

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Chancellor Wendler asked me to chair a committee that he commissioned to review; pay increases for meritorious work performance, and a re-writing of civil service staff’s evaluations.  In partnership with Human Resources, SIUC administration, the Director of the State Universities Civil Services System, and

representation from the Administrative and Professional ranks…we were not only able to perform the tasks that we had been charged with…but many civil service staff have benefited from the out of season pay raises that are based on merit.

In view of the extreme stresses that civil service staff were undergoing when they were diagnosed with critical diseases, such as cancer, the Chancellor enhanced extended sick leave to help ameliorate the suffering of his colleagues.

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The Chancellor and I had many serious and private conversations.  One was where the leadership of University Housing had gathered a University wide committee that was prepared to issue an RFP, a request for proposal, seeking privatization of Food Service services.  This would have affected many civil service staff.  I was told, privately, by a member of the committee that the Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor were looking toward privatization of Food Service for Housing.  I was also given the same information by my good friend, Jim S., who asked me if there was anything that I could do.  I was quite sure that  little man like me could do nothing…as it appeared that the decision had already been made.  However, I telephoned my friend, Jake B., who was the chair of the Administrative and Professional Staff Council and he agreed to accompany me to visit the Chancellor, in the evening.  The Chancellor was a bit out of sorts.  He was somewhat perturbed by my explanation for my and Jake’s visit.  He went on to explain to me that he was only doing his job and that, perhaps, he should examine Building Services for privatization.  I responded that I was fearful to be before him, our leader, as I was but a janitor.  I continued by attesting that I had neither the wisdom nor the understanding to convince him to change his mind regarding privatization…but I had to try.  I spoke about SIUC being the economic engine that propels the economy in Southern Illinois.  I touted the dedication of the Housing Food Service Staff and their love to our students.  I spoke of the dismal fact that when you lost a job at the University…you would not find another in Southern Illinois.  I quoted the scripture:  ‘But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.  And, she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.’    Mark 7: 26-28    KJV

assorted variety of foods on plates on dining table

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

The Chancellor turn his head from Jake and I and stared for several minutes…and then asked if we had anything else.  I meekly responded, no.

The next morning, my contact, that was a member of the Privatization committee, told me that the Chancellor had called the Vice Chancellor into his office at 7:00 A:M: and told him to disband the committee and that there would be no more discussion of privatization of Food Service staff.

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About a week later my Executive Director told me to pass the word that the Chancellor wanted civil service staff to understand that there would be no discussion of privatization while he was Chancellor.

2 responses

  1. A “little man ” can make a big difference if he tries, but can make no difference if he doesn’t. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you, my friend. 😃

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