Skip to main content



June 8, 2016 Employee Forum meeting minutes

Attending (those who signed in):  Bryan Andregg, Jo-Ann Blake, Sharon Brinson, Bonita Brown, Ronald Campbell, Tiffany Carver, Clare Counihan, Mary Dahlsten, Phillip Edwards, David Fraley, Jim Fuller, Christine Greenberg, Lori Haight, Shane Hale, Victoria Hammett, Shayna Hill, James Holman, Kathy James, Karen Jenkins-Cheek, Gloria Johnson, Gabrielle Jones, Mary King, Susan Lucas, Ronda Manuel, Angelica Matos, Matt McKirahan, Arlene Medder, Natiaya Neal, Deborah Norton, Jackie Overton, Michael Penny, Paula Poe, Krista Prince, Kelli Raker, Kathy Ramsey, David Rogers, Greg Smith, Charles Streeter, LaToya Taylor, Ben Triplett

Excused Absences:  Katherine Cartmell, Jeanna Mccullers, Katie Musgrove

Chair Charles Streeter called the meeting to order at 9:20 a.m., noting the meeting would begin by recognizing outstanding staff of the University.  He welcomed Recognition & Awards committee chair Natiaya Neal to present certificates to winners of the Forum’s Peer Recognition awards.  She recognized the following winners:  Ross Babinec, of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, Troy Cates of Laboratory Animal Medicine, Rodney Clay of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, Lisa Coates of Laboratory Animal Medicine, Deborah Cook of Allied Health Sciences, Lindsay Crutchfield of the School of Nursing, Lori Del Negro of Chemistry, Rebecca Egbert of Undergraduate Admissions, Edmund Fernandez of Allied Health Sciences, Robyn Gardner of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, Karen Gilliam of Chemistry, Ashley Hockaday of Chemistry, Pam Jackson of the School of Pharmacy, Kathy James of the School of Medicine, Heather Joyce of Laboratory Animal Medicine, Georgia Njagu of Allied Health Sciences, Tin Lay New of Allied Health Sciences, Sherard Robbins of Housing & Residential Education, Virginia Sellars of the School of Government, and David Weaver of Financial Reporting.

The Chair then recognized outgoing delegates Bonita Brown, Ron Campbell, Mary Dahlsten, Shantell Ferrell, Jim Fuller, Shane Hale, Victoria Hammett, Karen Jenkins, Gabrielle Jones, Mary King, Ronda Manuel, Arlene Medder, Natiaya Neal, Jackie Overton, Christopher Powe, Kelli Raker and Nihlei Tial.  He noted that delegates have the opportunity to run for a future term on the Forum if desired.

The Chair was proud to recognize this year’s Kay Hovious Wijnberg Outstanding Delegate Award winners.  He noted that these delegates had received votes from a plurality of the Forum delegation.  This year’s winners were Clare Counihan, Arlene Medder, and Samara Reynolds.

The Chair welcomed Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources to present the Forum’s customary Human Resources update.  Butler noted that predicting State employee raises for this term would be very difficult.  He did speak on the possibility of merit raises which have not occurred for SHRA employees in many years.  He would have more information as it becomes available.

Butler said that the Fair Labor Standards Act would lead to many changes at the University due to revisions in this federal legislation starting December 1, 2016.  He noted that the FLSA’s original incarnation in 1938 had set a maximum work week, abolished child labor, and established hourly and exempt employee classifications.

Butler said that exempt employees are salaried employees who earn above a certain salary threshold.  In 1973, that threshold was $13,000/year.  In 2004, the standard rose to $23,660/year.  In 2016, however, the threshold will rise to $47,476/year, and will thereafter adjust every three years.

Butler said that exempt employees may become non-exempt, and the University may be exposed to potential increases in overtime liability for these workers.  Additionally, there is the potential for movement of employees from monthly to biweekly payrolls, the latter of which is paid on a two-week lag.  Butler said that 110 SHRA exempt employees, 265 EHRA non-faculty employees, and 572 post-docs could be affected by this legislation, as well as an indeterminate number of research faculty.  Employees not subject to the minimum salary threshold include doctors, lawyers, teachers with the primary duty of instruction, resident advisors, and graduate research assistants and teaching assistants.

He said that the Office of Human Resources “owns” compliance with the legislation at UNC.  A policy and process working group will draw on a campus-wide membership to oversee activities in this area.  A systems process team will work on ConnectCarolina and TIM impacts.  Other campus entities that will contribute to the policy and process working group include the Office of University Counsel, the Academic Personnel Office, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, and Human Resources Communications, Organization & Professional Development, Employee & Management Relations, and Classification and Compensation.  OHR Classification and Compensation will update a spreadsheet of affected individuals by school and division, with outreach to large and unique campus employee groups.  The working group will finalize communications and training plans and implement a general policy review.

Butler said that schools and divisions can contribute by reviewing position design and identifying potential high-cost areas such as teleworkers, frequent travelers, and sponsored visas.  An employee asked why the University does not increase salaries.  Butler said that salary increase rules must follow external review and rules.  A general increase would lead to salary compression and inequities.  IN addition, some positions do not work overtime.  An employee asked about the impact on benefits such as vacation time.  Butler said that there would be no impact on vacation time, but a potential impact on University Payroll.  He noted also a perceived loss of status for some employees moving from exempt to non-exempt.

Chrissie Greenberg said it would be important to manage expectations for employees moving from exempt to non-exempt.  Exempt employees are typically committed to work until the job is done and may struggle a bit with the more micro-managed work environment of the non-exempt employee.  Butler said that this question is under discussion and would be included in training.

Mary Dahlsten asked if an employee can choose to receive overtime pay or compensatory time.  Butler said that the manager or unit typically makes these decisions due to budget constraints.  An employee asked if these changes will lead to layoffs.  Butler said that departments will need to balance workloads.  He did not think that layoffs would result from this legislation.  He encouraged employees to get extra work time approved to get their jobs done, if necessary.

Butler said that the University will stick to the implementation date of December 1, 2016 for all efforts in this area.  An employee asked about the accrual of leave for employees creating different tiers of employees.  Butler said that the leave earning rules are the same for SHRA and EHRA employees.  The Fair Labor Standards Act deals with hourly versus salaried employees and does not impact leave accurals.  Chrissie Greenberg noted general difficulties with terminology of SHRA non-exempt, EHRA exempt, and SHRA exempt employees.  Butler proposed moving away from “exempt” language to use “subject to” as a substitution.  He would follow through with updates on this subject posted on the OHR website.

The Chair introduced Ombuds officers Wayne Blair, Laurie Mesibov, and Victoria Dowd.  Blair said that the Ombuds office typically speaks on trends encountered by the office in the previous year.  The group will share these trends from the 2014-15 and the partial 2015-16 academic years.

Blair shared the four principle watchwords of the Ombuds office’s work.  First of these is confidentiality, meaning that the office will do nothing without permission and always reserves the right to say ‘no’ or ‘not yet.’  The office does not keep records with names and does not have carte blanche to do as it likes.  Blair also said that conversations with the Ombuds office do not place the University on formal notice.  Exceptions to this confidentiality rules occur when the serious risk of imminent harm arises or the abuse of children or elders is in place.  Secondly, the Ombuds office is impartial and serves as the designated neutrals in any controversy.  The office will help people advocate for themselves but will not decide right and wrong.

Thirdly, the office functions informally without forming a part of the University’s formal processes.  The office does not keep records with names, and will help clients access University processes but will not participate as advocates.  The office helps mediate disputes, move data, and shuttle diplomacy, all functions which allow a level of informality.

Fourthly, the office functions independently.  Ombuds officers are employees of the University but are not micromanaged.  The office only answers directly to the Chancellor, and in this relationship reports macro-level issues, capturing trends and patterns of issues.  All in all, the office works to find creative solutions to complex problems, serving as a reality check for the campus.  The office seeks to clarify information and push back against misconceptions.

Blair said that observed trends start with the increased use of the word “anxiety” to describe situations.  He said that it was unclear as to whether anxiety describes more cases, but the time to resolution of such cases is much longer.  Units and laboratories, for example, have disagreements around which the level of anxiety has become very high.  He said that most times these disagreements arise from small things.

Factors in disagreements include stress and disinterest in going to work, a “Carolina Blue” which strikes all members of the community on Sunday evenings.  He said that people will listen to others’ statements via the rumor mill and will find ways to disagree with their cohorts based on this false information.  These disagreements add to the general level of anxiety in an interconnected and interrelated process.  Blair said that people are not taking time to clarify their statements because they do not have time to work out problems in a collegial way.  He emphasized that everyone is entitled to dignity and respect.

Blair said that this year was extraordinary as the anxiety is increasing without slowing down.  He encouraged people to think before they respond, particularly through e-mail.  He noted the anxiety attached to managing elder care for some employees.  The Chair added that the current election and attendant issues add to this anxiety.  Blair thought that employees must find other ways to let disagreements go, even when giving or receiving apologies.  He said that employees must find ways to relax and allow adversaries their dignity by saving face.

Blair said that he had heard the word “retaliation” in many discussions.  He said that the perception exists that people are retaliated against, more often than not in subtle ways.  For example, an employee allowed flexibility in one area has it denied after a disagreement.  Blair emphasized that holding an employee accountable for their work or conduct does not equal retaliation.  He added that employees have more power than they think they do.  For example, an employee who does the job does not leave room for retaliation from supervisors.  Blair granted that retaliation does occur and its use is mainly to mute people.  Yet, employees are using the fear of retaliation as an excuse not to do the right thing.  All this leads to more anxiety and stress.

Blair noted problems with annual leave for EHRA and SHRA employees who are entitled to what they earn but not to take leave when they would like.  He said that requests for leave 24 hours later are unreasonable.  He said that disputes surrounding annual leave arise from lack of communication and lack of consistency in the way leave is awarded unit wide.  He said that units must make transparent how and when employees can take leave.

In the 2014-15 academic year, the Ombuds office saw 465 cases, 27% involving SHRA employees, 19% involving faculty, 17% involving EHRA employees, and 24% involving other entities such as spouses of employees or calls from different schools.  Six percent of cases involved undergraduate students, 4% graduate students, and 3% post-doctoral students.  A percentage also arose from the Town of Chapel Hill, which employs its own Ombuds officer, former Forum delegate Faith Thompson.  Sixty-two percent of cases were originated by women and 38% by men.  He noted a general inclination among women to ask for help in disagreements across the country.

Clare Counihan confirmed that employees cannot be denied parental leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but must only meet criteria for the leave.  She granted a general need to negotiate timing with management.

Sharon Brinson asked if the Ombuds office could identify specific themes for this year.  Blair said that popular language in cases refers to people feeling “harassed” or “bullied,” either verbally or electronically.  David Rogers noted the level of anxiety may result from the lack of mechanism or feedback up the chain of command.  Blair said that it is easier to talk about people than to talk with them.  He noted the climate of avoiding conflict at UNC that may have to do with a lack of information and trust among employees.

Lori Haight asked how much of the office’s caseload involved repeating clients.  Blair said that approximately 500 cases involved around 2,000 people, with the number of people dramatically higher than the caseload.  Haight asked if the office encouraged employees to follow up with their concerns.  Blair said that the level of repeat visitors resembles the cases that occurred during the 2009 recession.

Chrissie Greenberg said that the University Managers’ Association noted the amount of stress related to the ConnectCarolina start-up and implementation.  Blair noted that conflict mainly occurs between colleagues and peers, with frustration arising with supervisors.  He said that avoidance of conflict has led to most tension resulting with peers.  Clare Counihan asked about some active resistance to change accompanying ConnectCarolina.  Blair noted a perception of inconsistency in promotions that has led to a feeling of mistrust.  He said that supervisors will divert from policy and practice to do their own thing.  Gena Carter said that promotion policy depends on the nature of the position’s duties and skills.  She said that technological and “touchy-feely” aspects of the job such as writing and speaking well all may have their part in the makeup of a successful candidate.

Sharbari Dey noted an inherent bias contributing to the description of leadership and soft skills associated with promotions.  Blair said that if questions arise in how a promotion is determined, no one respects the person going into the position, a problem that is the fault of the selectors.

Laurie Mesibov said that the office works to talk through or coach individuals through difficult situations, to advise individuals to catch others at their best when holding difficult conversations, and to set out to be an outstanding program.  She reported that UNC-Chapel Hill’s Ombuds office has been recognized internationally for its work, with Wayne Blair in particular being invited to teach and provide the keynote at a conference in Seattle.

The Chair reminded delegates that the next meeting of the Forum will be its annual retreat at the Friday Center, to take place on Wednesday, July 13th.

The Chair asked Parliamentarian Phillip Edwards to officiate in the Forum’s officer elections.  Edwards said that there are four open positions for this term:  Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer.  There were no nominations for Chair.  Kathy Ramsey had been nominated for Vice Chair, Kathy James had been nominated for Secretary, and Shayna Hill was nominated for Treasurer.  Cynthia Brown had also been nominated for Treasurer but had needed to resign from the Forum this month.

Edwards called for nominees from the floor for the position of Chair.  Jackie Overton nominated Charles Streeter, seconded by Kathy James.  Streeter accepted this nomination.  Ronda Manuel, James Holman, Katie Turner, and Phillip Edwards all declined nominations for this position.  Charles Streeter was elected Chair by acclamation.  Streeter said that he stood up because no one else was able to do so.  He said that next year he would go off the Forum and so could not run again.  He encouraged interested delegates to tag along with him to learn about becoming Chair.  He noted that the Forum will turn 25 years old next year and so would need to devote resources planning for that event.  He also expected that Finley Golf Course will be named to host the 2017 Chancellors’ Cup golf tournament.  He said that the Forum will select committee chairs and other members at its July 13th retreat.

There were no other nominations for the other officer positions.  Ramsey, James, and Hill were reelected by voice vote and acclamation.

Jim Fuller reported that the 28th annual Carolina Blood Drive had exceeded its goal of 830 pints by 12 pints.  He thanked all who worked together to make the Drive possible.

Arlene Medder said that the Carolina Campus Community Garden committee had published its annual report.  The committee hopes to increase staff turnout for volunteer days in the summer and to increase distribution to Grounds and Housekeeping employees.

The Chair noted that the Communications and Public Relations committee would publish a written annual report for the July retreat.  The committee will also publish InTouch at the end of the month as well as continue with the Forum book club.

Ronda Manuel said that the Carolina Family Scholarship had received 34 applications.  The committee is reading applications now.

Kathy James said that the Membership & Assignments committee is working on the Forum retreat planning.  The committee has signed a contract with the Friday Center for the day.  The lunch will include barbeque and vegetarian options.

Chrissie Greenberg said that the Personnel Issues committee had been on hiatus for a portion of this year due to losing members.  She said that the committee had worked on human resources issues and would likely continue in the future.

The Chair thanked Natiaya Neal for taking over leadership of the Recognition & Awards committee as well as planning for the day’s Peer Recognition awards.

The Chair said that the UNC System Staff Assembly had received five applications from UNC-Chapel Hill for the Janet B. Royster professional development scholarship.  He said that the Forum needs to find more sponsors for its golf teams in 2017.  He thanked the Chancellor for her sponsorship of two teams for the Sanford tournament.

Regarding House Bill 2, the Chair asked the Forum to discuss this issue at the upcoming July retreat.  He thought that the Staff Assembly would issue a statement on the question, but had decided to wait in light of actions by General Administration’s University Counsel.

The Chair noted that the 80/20 State Health Plan will require on-line attestation of various health conditions.  The 70/30 plan will be the default plan this year and employees must take action to participate in the 80/20 plan.  He noted a big push for consumer-directed health plans in the future.  He encouraged listeners to keep an eye out for bulletins from General Administration on this issue.

Jo-Ann Blake confirmed that the Forum will send out decals for the Friday Center’s parking lot for the July 13th retreat.  Jackie Overton noted that all campus permits are honored at the Friday Center.  Clare Counihan noted an upcoming HAVEN training on June 10th.

In the absence of further discussion, the meeting adjourned at 11:21 a.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Matt Banks, Recording Secretary


Comments are closed.