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InTouch:  UNC Employee Forum News
Volume 6, Number 3 April 2005

From the Chair, Tommy Griffin…
Don’t Sit Back

Hello friends.  Here it is spring and everything is renewing itself.  But some of the same old issues are facing us again this year.  The General Assembly is in session in Raleigh, and it seems like we are hearing something new from them every day about the budget crises in our state.  It seems that every time I hear about the size of the deficit, it keeps growing.  Just one year we would like to hear that our state is in good financial shape and that the first thing they are going to do is talk about pay and benefits for all state employees.  I would like to hear they are providing a living wage for all state employees.

The next thing we would like to hear about is an affordable health care system for everyone in our state.  We would also like to hear the General Assembly is providing enough money for education in our state, both for K through 12 and higher education.

We have a great UNC system, but if we keep getting hit by budget cuts, how long can we stay great?  How lean can the State education system get before it starts to fail?

We are down to the bone now, and if we cut any more we won’t be able to hold the system together.  The education system in our state belongs to all of us. We cannot sit by and let it fail.  You see in the news every day where our counties are having to come up with more and more funds to meet the educational needs for local school systems.  The state must do the same thing with our University system:  The University has to have funds to grow and to support all its needs.  We must build for the future or we will be left behind.  We cannot continue to make cuts and keep a nationally ranked University system.

Now is the time to stand up and be heard.  We must let our leaders in Raleigh know what we want.  It only costs 23 cents to mail a post card to express support for our health, education, pay, and benefits.  Don’t sit back and say someone else will do it.  We are the folks who need to be writing those post cards today and putting them in the mail.  Don’t miss out on the opportunity to get your ideas and thoughts heard and voted on by our leaders in Raleigh.  We all are tax-paying, voting citizens of our state, and sending a post card is just like voting.  Please don’t miss out on helping to improve our state for all of us.  The next thing I want to read in the newspaper is that the General Assembly building in Raleigh is being overwhelmed by post cards from the citizens of North Carolina.  Thanks for keeping this a great state to live and work in.  Your friend, Tommy Griffin.

Employee Forum Resolution on Monthly Paychecks

The prospect of there being an unpopular change to the University’s payroll schedule was vigorously discussed by Employee Forum members at the group’s monthly meeting on April 6th.


Roger Patterson, Associate Vice-Chancellor for Finance, explained to the assembled members and numerous visiting observers from the Housekeeping Department that the proposed change did not come from the administration, but from several academic departments on campus.  These units, he said, have to process a large volume of grant-related budgets that are managed on a monthly financial calendar.  Because the bi-weekly pay schedule used for SPA employees does not mesh with these monthly accounting procedures, finance officers in some of the affected departments made a request that the University look into changing its payroll procedures with a view toward converting all employees to a monthly schedule.


“My approach in matters of this nature,” said Patterson, “is to listen.”


Patterson reported that he assigned Dennis Press, University Controller, to get a group of people together to talk about the issue.  The fact that the resulting group did not include a representative who could speak for the interests of SPA employees wound up causing quite a bit of heated discussion among Forum members and other employees.


Patterson reassured the Forum that even a recommendation from the committee would not necessarily have resulted in his office taking any action.  If it did, he emphasized, he would then have asked the Employee Forum to get involved.


Patterson noted that in a few years the University will have to make some changes to its financial software that may raise the issue of the payroll schedule once again.


A Forum member asked why the meeting of the committee discussing the payroll schedule change had not been publicized. Laurie Charest, Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources, briefly replied that meetings that are appointed by a chancellor or vice-chancellor are “open meetings” as defined by the NC Open Meetings law.


The UNC policy guidelines on open meetings can be found at  A Question and Answer sheet on the NC Open Meetings law can be found at


The Forum members then voted on “A Resolution Concerning Salary Pay Periods for University of North Carolina Employees” and passed the measure (with no changes) by a vote of 31 in favor to 2 opposed, with none abstaining.

New Grievance Coordinator on the Job

Human Resources this month welcomed Martha Fowler as the University’s first full-time grievance coordinator.  She has 25 years of State service, and for most of that time has volunteered as a grievance panel member and panel chair.


The grievance coordinator position was established as a result of the Chancellor’s Task Force for a Better Workplace.  One of the task force’s recommendations was to expedite the grievance process. To that end the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration appointed a campus-wide committee to review the SPA dispute resolution procedure.  The committee studied the issue, got input from the University community, and revised the grievance policy.   One of the committee’s suggestions was the hiring of a full-time grievance coordinator.


Martha’s duties as grievance coordinator include overseeing and managing the grievance process for SPA employees at UNC.  She is responsible for scheduling hearings, getting panel members and support persons together, and conducting hearings.  “It’s a big responsibility,” Martha says. “I look forward to assisting employees who find it necessary to use the grievance process.”


The new grievance policy took effect February 1.


Martha invites employees to contact her with questions about the grievance process, at 843-8676 or, or to stop by her office, Room 1517 at the Administrative Office Building on Airport Road.

University Ombudsoffice to Open in May

If you have no idea what “ombuds” means, you’re not alone.  It’s a new word to many people, and a new service at the university.  Ombuds (AHM-budz) comes from a Swedish word meaning “representative.”


The Ombuds Office is a place where any employee (faculty or staff) can come to talk about problems at work, and explore options for action.  There are two ombuds officers, Laurie Mesibov and Wayne Blair.


The ombuds serves as a listening ear, a source of information, and at times, a mediator.  Wayne Blair says there are three key characteristics of an ombuds office:


  • Informal.  Working with an ombuds doesn’t require a procedure or a formal process.  You simply make an appointment, and sit down to talk.  You and the ombuds can discuss possible courses of action—or whether to take action at all.
  • Neutral.  The ombuds doesn’t take sides in a conflict.  The ombuds doesn’t represent the university administration, nor does he or she determine who’s “right” or “wrong” in a situation.
  • Confidential.  Information you share with an ombuds is held in strict privacy.  No one needs to know you’ve visited their office.  If you ask the ombuds to speak with your supervisor or co-workers, he or she may do that—but only with your explicit permission.


(For a fuller explanation of what an ombuds does and doesn’t do, visit

Welcoming the New Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity

At its April 6th meeting, Employee Forum members voted on a resolution welcoming the new Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity to the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.


Citing the vision of past UNC President Harry Woodburn Chase, who established the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences in 1924 to examine issues including work and labor conditions, the resolution extended the welcome and support of the Forum to the new Center.


In addition, the resolution invited members of the Center to work with the Employee Forum on issues that the two groups share in common, in order to “ensur[e] the continuation of this university’s finest traditions of fearless intellectual academic inquiry and public service.”


Mlyn Wins Forum Community Award (Three-Legged Stool)

At the April 6th Forum meeting, Eric Mlyn, Director of the Robertson Scholars Program, received the Employee Forum Community Award for his work in creating and building collaborations between the Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill campuses.  The Employee Forum Community Award (also known as the Three Legged Stool Award) is designed to recognize distinguished contributions by individuals who work to promote cooperation and collaboration among staff, faculty, and students.


The Robertson Scholars Program provides scholarship funding to students at both Carolina and Duke, who interact in a variety of ways, including attending common retreats, colloquia, and summer enrichment activities, as well as completing courses on the other campus.   The program is responsible for the free Roberson Express Bus between UNC and Duke.  Margi Strickland, who nominated Mlyn for the award, say “Eric works with people at all levels from the UNC Chancellor and the Duke President to the drivers of the Robertson buses, to bring the two campuses together on such projects as the move to corresponding academic calendars, the Robertson Scholars campus switch, and Collaboration Fund partnership.


While there were many excellent nominees for this award, Mlyn’s work seems to bring together the most diverse set of people, including staff, faculty, and students at both Carolina and Duke, and the Forum was pleased to present Eric Mlyn with its Community Award.

April Health Care Resolution; UNC Health Plan Gains Momentum

The Employee Forum approved a resolution opposing health care cost increases at its April 6, 2005 meeting.  This resolution was approved in response to media reports that the State Health Plan will see significant increases for the 2005-07 budget biennium (two-year budget term).  This resolution cited statistics generated by the Office of Human Resources that an employee earning $25,000 pays 26.5% of gross pay for the State Health Plan benefit package, an employee earning $75,000 pays 12.8% of gross pay for the State Health Plan benefit package, and these figures rank North Carolina 8th out of 8 in comparison with eight other Southeastern State Governments.

Also, the University System and the Office of the President moved ahead with its proposal for a separate University health care plan, having obtained Board of Governors approval of the idea in March and submitting a bill to this effect earlier this year.  Observers are uncertain whether the Legislature will approve the proposal before the end of the current legislative session.  Leslie Winner, General Counsel for the Office of the President, has conducted community meetings on the proposed new health plan throughout the state this month, holding meetings at UNC-Chapel Hill on April 28 and 29.  Details about the initiative are on-line at,