Congress Hears About MIT's Re-engineering Effort

by Jonathan Fox

 
The Research, Development, and Technical Employees' Union (RDTEU),
MIT’s largest, with over 700 members at MIT, Draper, and Lincoln
Laboratories, has filed a grievance with MIT’s Administration
claiming a number of contract violations stemming from MIT’s
ongoing reengineering effort. RDTEU’s president, David Gay, says
that "so far at MIT, reengineering has clearly proven to be a
heartless exercise in downsizing." “In addition to downsizing, MIT
has decided to out-source work formerly performed by laid off RDTEU
employees.” One example that Gay cites is MIT’s shut down of the
Office of Laboratory Supplies (OLS) and its release of 15 longtime
RDTEU workers. The new purveyor of laboratory supplies, VWR, an
independent marketing firm, is performing in the exact same capacity
as the former OLS, even though the notices given to laid off employees
said that the layoffs were due to “lack of work.”
	Gay is especially concerned about the treatment of loyal and
dedicated employees during the process of reengineering. He notes that
President Vest once stated, "...I don't buy the hypothesis that it
needs to be long-term employees who leave the Institute during the
process [of reengineering]." But, as a direct result of reengineering
OLS, two employees with many years of service and experience face a
financially bleak retirement. One is 61 years old with 28 years of
employment and will receive a retirement benefit of $960 per
month. The other is 59 years old with 40 years of employment and will
receive $1,167 per month. For both of these employees, their monthly
retirement benefit is less than 50 percent of their pre-retirement
income. Moreover their benefits are taxable, and do not include health
insurance. “This is how MIT rewards service and dedication,” Gay
said.
	Meanwhile, those administrators who look to retire, generally
with far fewer years of service, receive retirement benefits equaling
their pre-retirement monthly income. For example, William Lemnios, the
retired division head of Lincoln Labs, was paid $126,540.78 by MIT in
1994. Gay thinks this is "no more than an executive golden parachute."
	Can MIT afford to do this? Gay says, answers that "MIT's
retirement fund is over funded by close to $200 million, and still MIT
refuses to offer an early retirement incentive program. Meanwhile,
they are planning to lay off large numbers of long service employees
within the next 3 to 4 years under the guise of addressing their $40
million dollar operating budget deficit." Despite these budgetary
constraints on MIT, the administration decided to give all employees
making $150,000 or more an extra $10,000 added to their already rich
retirement accounts and to “give themselves a raise for doing such
a good job of robbing the employees lower on the corporate
hierarchy,” said Gay. For example, he notes that from 1990 to 1993,
Chuck Vest’s salary increased 24% and for the same period, the
RDTEU salaries increased by 12%. “This is quite a double standard,
and hardly seems rational in light of the operating deficit.”
	To call into question MIT's disbursement of federal funds,
last week the RTDEU gave a list of MIT expenditures that they want
investigated to a large Congressional delegation and members of the
MIT administration. For example, in 1993 Richard Thome (a department
head at the Plasma Fusion Center) received a salary increase of 52%,
leaving him with an income of $348,646 a year; in 1994 Judith and
Richard Wurtman of the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department
received payments from MIT amounting to $149,799 and $162,425,
respectively. Gay stresses that he is not alleging any MIT wrongdoing
by raising this issue, but that his members are "entitled to request a
review of these payments and policies."
	The union has looked further into the rationale behind
reengineering and believes that it intentionally co-opts the
reengineering committee members and rewards them at the expense of the
remaining workforce. The workers, who are lucky enough to be among the
250 or so on a reengineering committee, are put in positions of
authority to redesign a process (e.g., mail or laboratory supply) that
may have negative effects, like layoffs, on existing workers, i.e.,
they are asked to tow the company line and abandon their
co-workers. Then, they are rewarded by getting to play a role in the
new revised process, which most likely will have fewer workers to do
the same work. The cost, Gay says, "is that they have now become
accountable for the performance of that process. At best, the
remaining workers face uncertainty about their positions. At worst,
they face unfair layoffs. Only the lucky few are included in the new
process. The result is that the existing non-unionized workers, like
the clerical staff, increasingly feel disenfranchised." Discontent
with their status could naturally lead them to organize. Thus, Gay
thinks “the reengineering committees only serve to diffuse the
workers' grievances while keeping the balance of power tilted towards
the administration.”

Leave voice mail at 252-1700 or send e-mail to workout@mit.edu (both
of which are anonymous) to voice your concerns about the effects of
reengineering on MIT's work force and to support RDTEU’s effort for
equitable treatment by the administration.  

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