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OIT eliminates 23 jobs, closes printer

by Seyward Darby

April 22, 2005 - After about a decade in operation, Duke Publications Group will close May 13, the University announced this week. More than 20 employees will be laid off or hired by other campus services when DPG, which handles bulk mail and printing services for the University, ceases its operations.

Angel Dronsfield, senior director of planning and business strategy for the Office of Information Technology, said the decision to close DPG was made after an extensive review process that began when OIT assumed oversight of DPG 18 months ago.

Dronsfield cited a competitive local market, alternative service options at Duke, financial shortfalls and the evolving publishing needs of the University as reasons DPG can no longer successfully operate. Many campus publications have also moved to electronic distribution, she noted, which eliminates the need for DPG.

In an April 19 memo to DPG customers, Dronsfield said OIT will be working over the next 30 days “to complete and/or transition existing print and bulk mail jobs that are in the queue.” OIT is also in the process of creating a program to provide customers with support as DPG transitions its services to contracted vendors.

Several customer service workers and a DPG designer will remain in place until December to facilitate the transition to a system modeled on the Print Management System used by Duke University Health Systems. “We will be moving from a model of print and bulk mail ‘operations’ to a form of print and bulk mail ‘services,’” Dronsfield wrote in an e-mail. “While we did at one point consider an outsource option, we ultimately decided instead to expand on an existing service already in place here at Duke.”

Twenty three workers—many of whom are long-time Duke employees—will lose their jobs in areas such as customer service, accounting, design and bulk mailing when DPG closes. OIT representatives met with the employees whose positions will be eliminated and gave them 90 days notice April 14, Dronsfield said. Workers who were not present at the meeting were contacted individually in the following days.

Rann Bar-on, a member of Students Against Sweatshops—an organization that advocates for workers’ rights—said he was informed that a security officer forcefully escorted the DPG manager to his car before OIT representatives told the employees about the closing. Bar-on also said the workers had received no prior notice of the closing.

“OIT decided to shut down the department and have the employees pay for OIT’s incompetence,” Bar-on said, alleging that OIT exercised poor management over DPG. “Duke advocates for fair working conditions, but treats its own employees exactly the opposite: extremely cold, sending in security officers.” Dronsfield could not confirm whether security was present when OIT spoke to the employees, but she said it was a possibility.

“While I did not personally see security escort anybody out because I was meeting with the remainder of the staff at the time, it is a usual practice to have security on hand whenever an employee is given notice that it is her/his last day working on site,” Dronsfield wrote, noting that human resources representatives also attended the meeting.

DPG employees were unavailable for comment because it is OIT policy that non-management employees not speak to the press as representatives of the organization. Dronsfield said the workers are eligible for the University’s standard severance package—one week of pay for every year of service at Duke. Bar-on said the size of the severance package the employees will receive “is extremely small and extremely unfair, given some of them have been working there for over 15 years.”

Each DPG worker was also assigned to a recruiter in the University’s Office of Human Resources who will help them find other jobs at Duke or build resumés, prepare for interviews and search for job opportunities, Dronsfield said. Paul Grantham, director of communications for HR, said the workers who are not reassigned at Duke will be placed on “priority status” for up to a year—meaning they will be contacted if a suitable job position becomes available.

HR has had success reassigning employees in the past, but varying circumstances dictate whether workers are able to find new positions at the University, Grantham explained. “It depends on the type of positions and areas we are talking about,” he said. Dronsfield said helping DPG employees in the coming weeks is one of OIT’s top priorities as they transition the group’s services to a new system.

“There are many qualified individuals within DPG who have served Duke with great dedication over many years, and we are committed to finding alternate positions for them within the Duke system,” she wrote in the April 19 memo.

Bar-on, however, criticized OIT for its handling of DPG employees and said the situation is indicative of the manner in which President Richard Brodhead’s administration treats Duke workers. “This seems to be a developing pattern under President Brodhead that the hardliners are being much less supervised than they were under President [Nan] Keohane,” Bar-on said. “The more moderate voices who have more concern for the employees are being shut up.”


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