Mark Thomas worries about the message it sends. The union steward for Local 171, which represents certain workers at the UW-Madison, says great efforts are made to recruit students of color to the predominantly white campus. And then when they look around, they "see that all of the people of color are hired into the lowest-paying jobs."
For instance, he's compiled a racial breakdown of Local 171 members who work for "the largest employing unit on campus," the Division of Facilities, Planning and Management. There are 253 nonwhites, a little less than half; of these, 247 are custodians.
Meanwhile, all but three of the 30 custodial lead workers are white, as are all 22 maintenance mechanics, 17 light motor vehicle operators and 14 power plant operators.
"Everybody on campus has to be in favor of diversity," says Thomas, a 29-year food service veteran who serves on the Campus Diversity and Climate Committee, which advises Chancellor Biddy Martin. "But there's no willingness to do anything that will make anyone uncomfortable."
Alan Fish, associate vice chancellor of Facilities, Planning and Management, affirms that Thomas' numbers are accurate. Overall his division (including members of several other unions) has 1,027 workers, 739 of whom are white and 288 people of color. Of the latter, more than half are Hispanic or Latino, 93 are Asians (mostly Hmong and Tibetan), and 26 are black.
And of these 288 people of color, 250 are custodians.
"Clearly, when you look at the grand totals, there is disparity," says Fish. "We certainly are aware that we have work to do."
The UW, says Fish, is pursuing two main strategies: aggressive recruiting and improving the campus climate. He touts a division program that offers instruction in English language skills, so entry-level workers who speak other languages can move up the ranks. But he says nominal turnover and a high worker-to-supervisor ratio limit opportunities for advancement.
Thomas is a bit of a doubter, suggesting the language instruction is done mainly so workers can do their current jobs better, not rise up the ranks. And while Fish says the UW's focus "is on outcomes, not process," Thomas is tired of committee meetings and thinks achieving diversity goals "should be part of the performance evaluations for the managers doing the hiring."
And so Thomas is reaching out to community and campus groups like the Black Student Union, the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice and Madison-Area Urban Ministry, asking them to take up the cause.
As he puts it, "I know Chancellor Martin doesn't get up in the morning and ask herself what's going on with hiring at [Facilities, Planning and Management], so I think we need to make the first step."
Up in smoke
Will bars and bowling alleys in Madison soon be sprouting new additions to accommodate smokers?
The Verona Press recently reported that Wildcat Lanes secured approval from that city's plan commission for an addition meant to exploit an apparent loophole in the state's new smoking ban, set to take effect this July. It seems to say if a structure has two or more walls with openings that make up more than 25% of wall area, it is not considered "enclosed" and hence is excluded from the ban.
"In other words," wrote the paper's editor, Jim Ferolie, "a completely enclosed room by any other definition needs only to have two walls with large, openable windows to allow smoking."
The Wildcat Lanes addition has large windows on three walls. The addition was unanimously approved, with one commissioner reportedly saying "cool" when the applicant admitted its purpose was to accommodate smoking.
Alan Harper, a plan review specialist with the Madison planning department, has not seen a wave of new applications, possibly because many bars and bowling alleys already have covered patios for smokers, built after the city's ban took effect in 2005. But he says applications received would probably be approved if they met building codes, "no matter how enclosed they are."
The task of enforcing the city's ban falls to Public Health Madison & Dane County, whose director of environmental health, Tommye Schneider, is worried about the new rules.
"It's definitely something we need to understand better," she says, "because the tobacco people will push this to the absolute limit if they can."
Pete Madland, executive director of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, says it remains unclear what the new state law allows: "We're really at a loss as to what to tell our members." But the March/April issue of On Premise, the league's magazine, assures bar owners that if a structure has two or more walls with an opening greater than 25%, "smoking is permitted."
That may be jumping the gun. Draft rules (PDF) just released by the Commerce Department seem to plug this loophole, saying some interpretations of what the new rules allow "would be inconsistent with the publicized objectives of the act." A hearing (PDF) on these proposed rules will be held in Madison on April 6.
"We are going to clarify exactly what you can and can't do when it comes to structures," says Zach Brandon, the department's executive assistant.
Regardless of whether new kinds of structures are allowed, the new state law will apparently prevent local authorities from considering smoking law violations in license renewal decisions, and cap fines for bar owners at $100 per day.
"If it had been written this way when Madison passed it," says Madison bar owner Dave Wiganowsky, "I would have just written them a check for $3,100 a month, because I lost a hell of a lot more money than that."
Madland notes, however, that the law also allows $250 fines on smoking customers, which could put a damper on businesses that try to buy their way past the ban.
Seems there always a catch.
Missing the forest and the trees
There's probably not a better news reporter in Madison than the Wisconsin State Journal's Jason Stein. But he blew it big time with his front-page exposé Sunday on the state's Managed Forest Law program, which he faults for letting participants close their land to hunting, saying they are "supposed" to allow this in exchange for tax breaks.
That's just not true. As the story elsewhere makes clear, owners can choose whether they want to open their lands to hunting, and thus get a much larger tax break. And opening up land for animal killing is a goal far distant from promoting sustainable forest management, which entails drawing up and following detailed management plans.
Stein may be right to question landowners who break large tracts into smaller ones to qualify for the program. But there is nothing remotely improper about those who opt to pay more and keep hunters out.
Let the punishment fit the crime
From a recent letter to the editor in the State Journal, from a Madison resident lamenting the lack of Kohl Center parking: "Plan Commission members should be made to walk the two-plus blocks to get to the Kohl Center." Oh the humanity!