“Paging Dr. Jones. Paging Dr. Jones. Dr. Jones, please call the operator.”
If you were waiting to see your doctor at Yale 28 years ago, you probably heard my voice over the public address system. Paging systems across the medical campus were run by Yale Telecom, and I was one of the page operators with the loudest voice. I did it all, from being the voice in the sky to staffing the after-hours answering service for the doctors.
28 years later, my job in Yale telecommunications looks very different. I’m now behind the scenes overseeing nearly 32,000 phone lines across campus. These days there’s a call center in every medical area, a phone in every classroom, every office and in each one of the blue phone security stations, and I’ve programmed nearly all of them.
Our telephone lines are like the veins of the University. Caring for them isn’t glamorous, but it’s vital. My working life has been about making sure that we can communicate with one another when we need to.
My department used to oversee every part of the telecommunications systems at Yale. That meant that if anything broke on campus we could repair it ourselves. We could guarantee that our service was going to work, and that if a problem arose we would be there to fix it, quick.
But then that all changed.
In recent years, our department has faced multiple rounds of budget cuts. We’ve gone from a staff of dozens to just five.
At the beginning of this year, 11 of my coworkers were laid off, and the entire photo and design operation was shuttered. One of our photographers who worked here for 48 years was laid off over the phone, while he was on a job. It was shameful.
Then the outsourcing happened. If you call the ITS help desk tonight, instead of speaking to a technician here at Yale you’ll talk to an outside vendor, who could be located anywhere in the country.
In the past, if your phone was broken, we would dispatch a technician to fix it as soon as possible. They would pick up a new phone from the warehouse, come to your location and swap it out. Not anymore. Our one warehouse worker was laid off, and now it’s anyone’s guess if we even have the equipment to make the repair.
When you needed a change to your phone line, we used to be able to make it happen in a matter of minutes. Now a simple change requires that a service ticket goes to an outside vendor, who may take weeks to get to it.
It’s no stretch to say that I’ve put my heart and soul into the work I do here. I can’t begin to count how many holidays have been interrupted so that I could fix a problem with someone’s phone. I’ve been fine with that — I was happy to know that my work mattered.
My good job, with its good pay and great benefits, has allowed me to live comfortably. I’ve raised two wonderful kids and in the future I will be able to retire and enjoy it. I haven’t gotten rich, but I’ve been secure.
Now I talk to the vendors who Yale is hiring to take our work, and I see the difference.
The employees of these companies don’t get the wages and benefits that we do, and they won’t get to enjoy the life I have. That’s what makes it so upsetting when the Yale management comes to us with yet another scheme to save money.
I know that change happens, and that change can be great. But what happens when the goal of that change is not to improve services? What happens when change is driven only by dollars and cents?
As Yale continues to grow and change, we must be vigilant and make sure that we don’t lose sight of what makes this place so great. To me, Yale is a place filled with wonder, invaluable treasures and most importantly, fantastically dedicated people.
I’m very proud of the work that I’m doing with my union, Local 34, to make sure that our jobs remain as great jobs. I want Yale to protect my job, to protect all of our jobs and to make it possible for more people to have good jobs like ours. We make Yale run better than anyone else.
To Yale’s students, patients, faculty, staff — you are worth it. You deserve to receive the gold standard of service at Yale.
Or at least, that was what I was told 28 years ago.
Jo-anne Dziuba works in Information Technology Services. She is a member of the Local 34 Executive Board. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .