U. of Wisconsin targeted for screening process

University of Wisconsin officials admitted to singling out custodians with Latino-sounding names for employment-eligibility checks, prompting an outcry from various minority and labor organizations.

About 25 custodians, mostly Latino, were fired as a result of the background checks when they were unable to prove their legal eligibility to work, said Casey Nagy, executive assistant to the chancellor.

UW began the checks after mail for several employees was returned as undeliverable and one employee was determined to have an invalid Social Security number.

Employees were notified by mail in March that they had 30 days to present their legal authorization to work in the United States. Those who did not comply were fired last Tuesday.

“Individuals tried to experimentally, without guidance, find out how big this problem was,” Nagy said.

Nagy said 25 of the 26 workers chosen for the screenings had false work documentation.

Aliens working illegally in the United States can face deportation.Various Latino and union officials have registered their unhappiness with the university’s behavior.

“I think it’s racial profiling, the fact that [the university] picked one group of employees because of their ethnic background,” said Mark Thomas, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 171.Thomas said he thought the university’s decision to screen employees based on their race was probably illegal.

Nagy, however, was displeased that people have branded the university’s policies as “racial profiling.”

“I don’t want to use the word racial profiling,” Nagy said. “I think in the effort to verify where there were concerns, one of the things they were looking at appears to be the basis of names.”

Thursday the UW System said it thought of running all 20,000 of its employees through the same background check. However, Thomas said the only reason the UW System would do so would be to cover its tracks.

“They told us if we went public they would check everyone,” Thomas said. “And if we kept quiet, they wouldn’t. If they do check all of the employees it will be to cover their tracks. The university clearly realizes they screwed up.”

Thomas also said, although the university has been unwilling to release the fired workers’ home phone numbers, he hopes to be able to reach some of them.

“It’s ironic some of the most committed and hard-working individuals are being singled out because of not enough documentation,” said Madison School Board Member Jose Lopez. “I know there are people the university has hired who they haven’t looked into as much as they have with the Hispanic people who are working there.”

Nagy said, that while the university does not plan to take any disciplinary action toward the administrators responsible for the screenings, it does plan to handle such situations differently in the future.