By Cathleen Leitch
Some of the most helpful faces on campus are never seen and are never heard about.
The support staff members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employment (AFSCME) union on campus reside in almost all of the buildings and can provide assistance in almost any situation.
“We’re the people who are really on the frontlines, not only with the students, but also with the parents,” said Michell Waslenko, AFSCME member-at-large. “From the time they are prospective students all the way to graduation and beyond, we’re really their main point of contact.”
AFSCME represents approximately 120 members of Rider’s support staff who serve as liaisons between students, parents, staff and Human Resources. Originally AFSCME was brought to Rider in 1978 by Rosemary Malloy to achieve uniformity in salary, raises, and job duties, but today they strive to aid the community in any way they can.
This union, unlike most unions, including Rider’s faculty union (AAUP), has never protested for rights or had any major issues with administration. Part of the reason is a good rapport with Human Resources, which allows members to go to the department openly.
“Human resources and the executive board work closely and we have one of those give-and-take relationships, particularly when it comes to a negotiation of benefits, salary and wages,” said Vickie LcLaughilin, president of AFSCME.
All support staff members become automatic members of the union once they are hired at Rider. However, they can decline membership, but must still pay bi-weekly dues that go to a scholarship fund for the school. As of now, there is no support staff employee that isn’t involved in AFSCME, according to Waslenko.
As a unit affiliate, the school gives tuition benefits after working at Rider for a minimum of three months. Full-time employees are granted total tuition remission for themselves and their families for nine undergraduate credits and six graduate credits. Other benefits include medical, life and dental insurance, short- and long-term disability and paid leave.
The executive board of AFSCME does its best to keep all members up to date by meeting during lunches or even after work. A monthly meeting is held to disclose new information and settle past discrepancies, but members are also updated by e-mail regularly.
“Because we are a unit and we’re unified on campus with all our members, we’re able to step out and do things for the campus community,” said Rita Cassano, chief shop steward and executive board member.
These activities include hosting a blood drive with Human Resources and preparing food baskets for the Thanksgiving drive. AFSCME is also involved in more serious matters, such as fire damage aid and payroll deduction to increase financial aid for students.
Helping the community outside of Rider is also on the priority list for the unit. They do this by raising donations for local charities such as Home Front, Mill Hill and the Veterans of Foreign War New Jersey National Home and eventually branch out to aid animal shelters. Resources can be used off-campus because Rider doesn’t see many issues.
“We have a quiet campus, so we don’t have a tremendous amount of discrepancies,” Cassano said. “We don’t have problems that arrive continuously.”
Most of the issues dealt with include general questions from admitted students, faculty or even alumni. Sometimes, a member will violate a section of the contract and must set up a grievance with Human Resources. When this happens, AFSCME sends a representative, known as a shop steward, with the party to aid and support them.
“I think our members feel really good that if they do have a problem, they have somewhere to go,” Waslenko said. “A lot of times in jobs you’ve got nowhere to go, but at least they have somewhere to go to discuss the problem and maybe get it resolved.”
AFSCME strives to resolve all issues whether they are simple questions or grievance issues by using communication and a good relationship with the administration. Over the past 20 years, members of the executive board have seen positive change at Rider and hope to continue to be a part of those changes.
“We support, we enhance, we’re constant, we’re there,” LcLaughlin said.