Many Northeastern Illinois student workers will get jobs back, officials say

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Northeastern Illinois University will reinstate hundreds of student jobs after a universitywide furlough this month, officials said Thursday, changing a recent directive that would have kept those students out of work indefinitely.

Last Friday, Northeastern announced 1,100 employees will take five unpaid days off during spring break, March 20-24, due to a state budget impasse that has left the school with limited funding. Nearly all school operations aside from police and engineering will shut down for the week.

Additionally, about 300 student aides were to be terminated in accordance with a new rule enacted by the State Universities Civil Service System. The new provision requires that all non-essential, state-funded student jobs and temporary positions must be eliminated before a university furloughs permanent employees.

The furloughs will continue as originally scheduled. Now Northeastern officials say they’ve found a workaround on the rule. Student employees will be terminated no later than March 18, but then can return to work March 27, after the furloughs are complete.

University officials, in announcing the furloughs, did not suggest that the terminations would be temporary. But in a previous interview with the Tribune, interim President Richard Helldobler criticized the rule and said the university would consult with its attorneys to determine their options.

“After exploring our legal options, we decided that this is the choice that puts Northeastern Illinois University in compliance with State Universities Civil Service System administrative rules while inflicting the least amount of harm on student employees who rely on this income to pay for essential needs,” Helldobler said in a statement.

“It also minimizes the disruption to critical services such as tutoring that our student employees provide. We are doing everything possible to blunt the impact of the budget crisis on our students, but this is yet another burden for anxious students who should be focusing on their academic and career goals.”

Jeff Brownfield, executive director of the civil service system, said in an email Northeastern’s strategy fulfills the agency’s requirements.

“Our understanding of the campus furloughing ‘all’ employees later this month would meet the definition of rule,” Brownfield said.

The reinstatement does not apply to all temporary workers, however. About 35 of those employees still will be out of a job until further notice, school officials said.

More furloughs could come later this year, officials said Thursday, if the state’s budget problems don’t improve.

NEIU, on the city’s Northwest Side, serves about 10,000 students.

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @rhodes_dawn

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Many Northeastern Illinois student workers will get jobs back, officials say

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