In early February, Philips gym workers got a taste of Oberlin politics. Twenty part-time employees were told their positions would be terminated immediately, inciting a demonstration in front of Philips protesting the decision.
By the next week, the College had reinstated all non-College student part-time workers. Athletic Director Don Hunsinger had handed down the decision to the employees but College President Nancy Dye said the Athletic Department did not have the authority to fire part-time employees.
"We got our jobs back," said Caleb Miller, a part-time worker at Philips. "I think the administration thought it was unfair."
Dye said, "It's important for everyone to recognize that there are basic principles of employment equity that Oberlin always adheres to, and if an individual is on our payroll, they deserve to be treated with basic principles of respect."
The affected employees organized a protest after learning of the department's plan to cut their hours.
"The decision was good, but we still need job security. Workers feel that we're only being rehired for the here and now," said part-time worker Jolie Thomas of Fireland High School.
Susie Thomas Young has worked at Philips since 1989. After being released the week of Feb.9, Young was rehired.
"Some of the rehirings are just a quick fix," said Young. "Hunsinger has no serious interest in our jobs. He is not taking this seriously."
The part-time workers met with Koppes the week of Feb. 16 to discuss the situation at the gym.
"We had a very good meeting," Koppes said. "It's unfortunate that meeting had to take place, but it was also an opportunity to tell employees how valuable they are to us."
"That meeting went pretty well," Miller said.
According to an open letter signed by Dye and Dean of the College Clayton Koppes, the Athletic Department's actions explicitly violated College policy. Athletic Director Don Hunsinger declined to comment for this article.
"The College has had to eliminate positions before," Dye said. "It's not that we have never done that. But when did that, we did it in a very careful and thoughtful ways. You need time to make an orderly transition and not have his or her life disrupted."
According to Hunsinger, the promotion early this year of baseball coach Eric Lahetta to a full-time position necessitated the cuts. Koppes said he was not told part-time workers' hours would be eliminated when he approved Lahetta's promotion.
"My original understanding when Eric Lahetta was made head baseball coach and assistant rec center director was that a reduction of hours would be minimal, if at all," Koppes said. "Eric was already working a substantial number of hours, so only a small amount of money if any was in question."
Some part-time workers complained that Hunsinger's willingness to allow Lahetta to work as many as 40 hours a week while still classified as a part time worker put the department over budget.
Koppes said the department was over budget last year and is over budget this year.
"Last year's number was over budget, but we had to live with it," Koppes said. "Overall, the budget structure in Athletics and Physical Education will receive top to bottom review this Spring. I'm hopeful that the long term result of this unfortunate situation will be in the end to provide a more smoothly operating gym and provide fair treatment for employees there."
Koppes conceded that Philips Gym has long suffered from mismanagement. Hunsinger, who has served as Athletic Director for four years, announced his intentions to resign his position on June 30.
Koppes said, "It's been apparent for awhile that the management of the gym is not what it should be, and my hope is with a new Athletic Director, we will be able to provide direction that's needed."
Copyright © 1998, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 24, May 22, 1998
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