Wesleyan will begin testing WorkForce Time, a new timekeeping system for employees, in April 2020. After testing, Wesleyan intends to launch WorkForce over the summer. Since the announcement, students and non-student employees have expressed worry, anger, and confusion over how the new system will affect them and the Wesleyan community at large.
WorkForce’s implementation was announced in an all-campus email from Wesleyan’s Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer and Treasurer Andy Tanaka ’00 and Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Dave Baird on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
“WorkForce will simplify processes and consolidate the current multiple reporting systems into a single system,” Tanaka and Baird wrote in the email. “We’ll use various technologies—including time clocks, computers, phones, and tablets—to document time worked and to record leave.”
Concerns raised about WorkForce include its use of geo-fencing technology, a lack of transparency from Wesleyan about their contract with WorkForce, and the fear that the software will be used to cut employee jobs and pay. As such, Physical Plant and clerical and secretarial workers voted unanimously to oppose WorkForce in a union meeting, United Student/Labor Action Coalition (USLAC) has circulated a petition in opposition to the implementation of WorkForce that had garnered over 1,000 signatures at the time of this article’s publication, and the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) unanimously passed a resolution calling for the administration to halt the implementation of WorkForce.
WorkForce’s software provides clients with the ability to record employee time, attendance, absence leave, accommodations, and also offers geo-fencing technology, among other features. WorkForce is currently in the process of customizing their software to Wesleyan’s needs before testing begins in April, according to Associate Vice President for Finance Chris Olt and Associate Vice President for Human Resources Lisa Brommer.
When it is implemented, WorkForce will be used by Wesleyan employees, including all student workers, to record their hours and time off. According to Brommer and Olt, WorkForce will not be used by Service Management Group (SMG) custodial workers or non-student Bon Appétit workers, who are subcontracted employees. Faculty will not use WorkForce either.
For the purposes of recording hours and requesting time off through WorkForce Time, Wesleyan employees will be split into seven different user groups: Secretary and Clerical, Physical Plant, Public Safety, Nurses, Administrative Staff, Students, and Temporary Employees, according to Wesleyan’s Associate Controller Melanie Messier and Information Technology Services (ITS) Senior Project Leader Barbara Spadaccini, who are Wesleyan’s co-project managers for WorkForce’s rollout.
“Each group has slightly different calculations for paid work and leave, and recording work hours vary based on location,” Spadaccini and Messier wrote in an email to The Argus.
Employees will also use the WorkForce software in different ways. For example, according to Spadaccini and Messier, Physical Plant and Public Safety will use ID cards to clock in and out, students will use a mobile time clock accessed via WesPortal, and other employees will use web-based timesheets on computers.
The introduction of WorkForce will also bring Wesleyan in line with Connecticut labor regulations that require employers to record their hourly staff’s start and stop times.
“The Department of Labor in Connecticut requires that we capture the time worked,” Olt said. “So it’s what time did you arrive, what time did you leave. And the reason for that is that it’s not enough to know [if] an employee works seven hours. The state wants to know that we’ve given them sufficient break time.”
Another reason Wesleyan decided to implement WorkForce is because, at present, almost every workplace on campus calculates time worked, pay, and leave differently. As a result, Wesleyan’s three-person Payroll Office has become overburdened.
“So having dozens of different processes, it’s hard, and I feel bad for the folks in Payroll,” Olt said. “We’ve asked them to pay everyone timely and accurately, and we do a phenomenal job with the information that we get, but we don’t get all of the information timely resulting in…that delay in pay.”
In particular, paying student workers in a timely manner has been a challenge for Payroll staff.
“Nearly every department who employs a student does it slightly differently,” Olt explained. “We have decentralized processes around procurement, around employment. So we’ve essentially said historically, ‘Okay, you want to employ a student, you figure out how to track their time, you figure out how much to pay them, and you figure out how to get that data to payroll,’ which has resulted in dozens of processes across the institution for managing student time.”
After the rollout of WorkForce was announced to the Wesleyan community, all present Physical Plant and clerical and secretarial workers at a Feb. 26 union meeting unanimously voted to oppose the implementation of WorkForce.
USLAC also listed their concerns in the petition and requested a response from Wesleyan by March 23.
One of these concerns is that Wesleyan intends to use geo-fencing technology—the creation of a virtual boundary for a worksite—as part of the WorkForce software.
“Wesleyan United Student/Labor Action Coalition (USLAC) stands in firm opposition to Wesleyan adopting WorkForce or any other system that uses geo-fencing,” USLAC said in a statement released on Feb. 27.
Senior Business Representative for the Local 153 OPEIU Seth Goldstein, who represents Physical Plant and clerical and secretarial workers at Wesleyan, also raised concerns about surveillance.
“USLAC is concerned because of the labor issue, but this is not just a labor issue,” Goldstein said. “This is a surveillance issue.”
Olt, however, said that no employee will be required to log into WorkForce from their personal devices, nor will Wesleyan require anyone to download an app. Instead, all employees will have the option to log in from their own device or on a Wesleyan device.
“If a student chooses to use their phone and the department chooses to use the functionality, you’d have to arrive in that location before you can check in,” Olt said. “Like you can’t check in to work in Admissions from your dorm or from Andrus Field. And if you don’t want to do that, we’ll have a device in Admissions that you can log in [to] via WesPortal, sign in, use the clock, and sign out. You don’t have to use your device at all. And then the device stays in Admissions, there’s no chance that it’s tracking you because it’s at a single place. So it’s going to feel very much like the way it happens now. The only difference is that you now have the option to quickly do it via your mobile device.”
Olt also said that, to his knowledge, even if employees did choose to use their personal devices to clock in and out, WorkForce and Wesleyan would be unable to track employees. However, Olt explained that Wesleyan is in the process of confirming this with WorkForce. The Argus was unable to reach WorkForce for comment.
“You can use your phone and log in via a browser, log in to WesPortal, record your time, and then log out of WesPortal… and there’s nothing for it to track,” he said. “So you log in and log out and it’s not tracking, but that was one of the follow-ups to the vendor.”
President Michael Roth ’78 reiterated this point in his meeting with the WSA on March 1.
“We don’t want to know where people are,” Roth said. “If the most important issue is about geofencing for student workers…there’s still time to make changes.”
Roth also criticized the petition that USLAC circulated when asked about it by a WSA senator.
“I’ve seen it,” Roth said. “It says things like, ‘Roth wants to know where custodians piss and shit,’ and although that’s an interesting fantasy—that’s Freudian, I love to see what people share online—that’s just misinformation.”
Another concern raised by USLAC, other employees, and the WSA is a lack of transparency from Wesleyan about their contract with WorkForce.
“[The WSA] calls for the publication of the University’s contract with WorkForce so that workers can understand exactly how their data will be used and how much money Wesleyan spent on WorkForce,” the resolution passed on March 1 reads.
“I think it’s really hard for both…student workers and workers who are directly employed by the University to kind of get a good sense of what we’re dealing with here unless we can get more information from the University,” said Katelin Penner ’22, the primary sponsor behind the resolution.
In addition to calling for Wesleyan to publish the contract with WorkForce, the resolution demanded a town hall for workers to voice their concerns and called for a student representative to be involved in all decisions and committees related to WorkForce’s implementation, stating that they expect a prompt response.
In response to calls for the contract to be released, Olt explained that Wesleyan usually does not disclose its contracts with vendors or how much it pays for services.
“Generally we don’t share contracts,” he said. “Most of them have a confidentiality provision in it. We are working with the vendor to get a copy of their data and privacy policies…that we hope to be able to share.”
Wesleyan has yet to hear back from WorkForce about whether WorkForce would release their data and privacy policies at the time of this article’s publication.
Goldstein also argued that the transition to WorkForce violates labor law because changes to the clock-in processes were discussed in the last contract negotiations between Physical Plant and Wesleyan last fall. Brommer disagrees, saying that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) does not require new timekeeping methods to be agreed upon during negotiation periods. The NLRB did not respond to a request for comment by the time of this article’s publication.
Those who oppose the implementation of WorkForce have also said that Wesleyan may use WorkForce as a way to cut salaries and jobs through close monitoring of employees to identify perceived inefficiencies.
“In general, USLAC is against any implementation of a system that is aimed at cutting labor costs on this campus,” USLAC member and student worker Ivanna Morales ’22 said.
In response, Olt said that he does not expect Wesleyan to use WorkForce as a way to cut labor costs.
“We don’t anticipate that this is going to cut time or eliminate positions or reduce the University’s pay,” Olt said.
Brommer echoed Olt’s remarks, explaining that she does not foresee changes to pay or jobs in Payroll and Human Resources.
“There’s plenty of work to do,” she said. “So the fact that we have a system that will help us do that, there’s still analysis that needs to be done. There’s still you know, data reporting…. So we don’t anticipate anything happening in our areas yet.”
Spadaccini and Messier also said that Wesleyan does not intend to use WorkForce to cut jobs or pay.
USLAC sees the implementation of the system as a sign that Wesleyan mistrusts its workers.
“I think as a whole, my bosses, the ones that I work with every day, trust me,” Morales said. “They trust who I am as a worker, they know who I am as a student, and the fact that Wesleyan wants to oversee our practices and claim that workers might be using the bathroom for too long, or leaving the workplace or in any way, [or] trying to steal time or wages or whatever. I think it’s insulting to all student workers. I think our work and our labor isn’t valued here.”
Penner echoed Morales’ thoughts.
“This is kind of just another step in that progression of de-valuing workers and de-valuing labor,” Penner said. “So I think it’s something that we need to take a stand against.”
USLAC has argued that by using WorkForce’s technology, Wesleyan would be partnering with an anti-worker company, citing WorkForce’s history of working with clients to cut labor costs, such as at Ohio University.
“The implementation of WorkForce at Wesleyan would threaten the jobs and compensation of student workers and staff, many of whom are already overworked and underpaid,” the petition reads.
Roth pushed back against the idea that because WorkForce had been used to cut labor costs at Ohio University, it would also be used to cut labor costs at Wesleyan.
“The fact that a website announces that it helps people cut salaries doesn’t mean that we intend to cut salaries,” Roth said.
While Olt recognizes that many employees may have concerns about WorkForce, he believes Wesleyan will be able to address these issues.
“[We’ve] heard from some employees who are concerned about the change and we will work hard to address those concerns,” Olt wrote in an email to The Argus. “Our goal for this project is entirely around improvement to our processes, which are antiquated, inefficient and arduous.”
Wesleyan also plans to hold town halls with the seven different user groups of WorkForce to better understand their concerns with the technology and explain how the software will work.
“I think our approach going forward is to have some town hall sessions with the different user groups because it was hard to address questions from the secretarial-clerical union stewards, because the way that they’re interacting with it is different than the way Physical Plant is interacting, and that’s different than how the students [interact with it],” Olt said.
Morales and fellow USLAC member Helene Kenney ’20 also hope that Wesleyan will hold a town hall to address broader concerns. However, instead of the administration’s plan to conduct smaller town halls with the different user groups, they hope that Wesleyan will hold one large town hall that all employees will be able to attend.
“We need to be able to hold direct accountability to the people who are making these choices because right now, again, part of the hardest thing is that we don’t know who’s voting for what, and who is setting what at the school,” Morales said. “And so it’s been in the dark for so long. So part of our demands is, like, they hold a town hall.”
“There’s been an email going around that they are going to meet with different sections of workers separately, as the WorkForce system will work differently for each different kind of worker on this campus,” Kenney added. “But it’s important to recognize that this is an issue that every single person directly employed by the University is facing. This isn’t something that they can divide us over.”
Hannah Reale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @HannahEReale.