Speaking Out

Book Store Issues & Questions

This letter is in reference to the University and Barnes & Noble's "partnership" regarding the Book Store. As employees of the Book Store we feel it is important that our concerns be heard. Since late February we heard nothing but rumors, finally on April 22, 1996, when the actual news of the "partnership" reached the employees we were given very limited information. Several employees had very serious concerns regarding their employment future, however when questions were asked of John Fry the only answers given were " I don't know" and "I do not have that information."

It is important that you realize that when we say employees we are talking about people who have been loyal to the University of Penn, some for as long as 20 years. We are talking about people who have families and who have counted on the benefits of working at Penn for financial, medical, and educational support. Some employees have children who were about to start school in the Fall, now that and everything else is in question for all of us.

There is one employee here at Penn who has been trying for two weeks to find out whether or not their child, accepted into early admissions here at Penn, will still have the tuition taken care of by Penn. One condition of early acceptance to Penn is that you must turn down all other offers. This is only one example of the many ways in which the University has left so many lives hanging in the balance. Although all of the Book Store employees were granted "interviews" with the Barnes & Noble company it is of little comfort knowing that regardless of our performances as employees of Penn many of us will be out of a job anyway as a statement made by Barnes & Noble president Alan Kahn in The Weekly Press May 2, 1996 issue confirms, "Some will stay, while some will definitely go."

While many employees have various concerns one major concern is in the forefront for many of us, the concern of our severance pay. The University has officially informed us that as of June 30, 1996 we will be "separated from employment" with the University of Pennsylvania. What this means, as far as we can tell, is that our positions are being involuntarily terminated with the University. According to Penn's Human Resource Policy #628 we are entitled to severance pay when this action happens, however this has become yet another issue that remains in question. When the employees asked Marie Witt on several occasions about the severance pay issue we again were put off by this University representative. As employees of the University of Penn we feel that we are entitled to some honest answers. This is our future which the University seems to be playing with, we wish they would remember that not all of us in the Book Store already have a guaranteed position with Barnes & Noble like the three people who have already been hired according to University President Judith Rodin.

Along with the question of severance pay there are various other questions which the employees of the Book Store would like answers to. Thus far the University has done an outstanding job of avoiding giving such answers. One such question is, if Penn and Barnes & Noble are entering into a 'partnership' why should the employees have to worry about not only their benefits but their very jobs? Shouldn't every one of us have a guaranteed position?

One of the biggest frustrations with this entire situation is the lack of information given to the people who it most effects. As employees of Penn we are being denied the right to make a clear choice based on the facts of the situation, but we do not know what the facts are. We have no information as to what benefits, what hours, how many full-time employees are being accepted, will there be any part-time work available? These are just a few of the questions which are still going unanswered. All the employees of the University want are some basic answers to some basic questions. But it seems that the University is not interested in assisting with this quest for answers. Karen E. Wheeler, Chairperson of the A-3 Assembly has spoken to John Fry's office on our behalf. TriChairs of The African American Association, Dr. Jerry Johnson, Thomas Henry and James Gray have also contacted Mr. Fry's office. On May 8, 1996, the African American Association representatives met with Mr. Fry and others to request a meeting between Mr. Fry and the Book Store employees which he had agreed to but as of yet has failed to set up. Employees of the Book Store contacted the Assistant Manager of Benefits Counseling, Albert Johnson, regarding various concerns about our benefits, Mr. Johnson said he would get back to us, we are still waiting. We have been very loyal employees to the University and all we want is some basic respect from the people who supposedly care so much about their employees.

The management of the Book Store seem very concerned regarding all of the "rumors" flying around, rumors such as even those hired by Barnes & Noble will be terminated after six months leaving those employees no recourse on Penn or Barnes & Noble. The only thing we are saying is that if you do not want us to listen to the "rumors" then please give us the facts. We have a very hard time believing that this "partnership" deal was signed by Penn without having knowledge of the information that the employees of the Book Store deserve to know.

The Concerned Book Store Employees
(Names Withheld*)

* Under the Almanac Guidelines, contributors' identities have been confirmed by two persons mutually agreed upon by the con-tributors and the editor. K.C.G.

Response to Book Store Employees

The questions and concerns of the Book Store staff are understandable and deserving of a full response.

Book Store staff received a letter last week advising them that a general information session is scheduled for May 29. This meeting will address the outcome of our negotiations with Barnes & Noble relative to salary and benefits offerings and, for those staff members not selected by Barnes & Noble, eligibility under the University's Posi-tion Discontinuation and Staff Transition Policy (PDST). Individual sessions have been scheduled May 30 in which each staff member will receive a comprehensive package of information relative to either their employ-ment offer and benefits from Barnes & Noble or their benefits under PDST. The offices of the Executive Vice President, Human Resources, and Business Services have engaged in a number of activities over the past several weeks in an effort to assist the staff through this transition such as résumé development and interviewing skills workshops.

We regret any anxiety caused by the delay in getting specific employment/benefit details to the Book Store staff, but we have used this time to work closely with Barnes & Noble to be sure that we have developed comprehensive, accurate information for each and every staff member as well as to maximize the compensation and benefits offered. We are confident that the final product will demonstrate our sincere desire to provide each Book Store employee with complete answers to all of their concerns and questions.

John Fry, Executive Vice President
Marie Witt, Director Support Services


Volume 42 Number 33
May 21/28, 1996

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