On behalf of the Employee Forum and over 7,000, staff employees at UNC-Chapel
Hill, thank you for the chance to speak. I am greatly encouraged by the steps the
Board and the University have already taken to address both immediate and longterm
issues of concern to staff. Today, I want to ask you to continue your support of
the staff at our University in three ways: First, by working to secure an adequate
legislative salary increase for all employees; Second, by working to provide family
health coverage that is affordable by all faculty and staff; Third, by supporting the
Chancellor’s initiative to create an innovative, flexible and responsive work
environment that will help staff reduce their commuting costs while meeting the
requirements of their jobs.
Staff employees have become very discouraged by the lack of appropriate pay
raises in the last five years. A significant legislative salary increase is needed to
help make up for the cumulative effects of these years, during which the average
employee has lost almost 1% per year in purchasing power. The rising costs of
health care and parking have taken their toll. With the steep rise in energy prices in
the last nine months, the situation has become even more critical.
Laurie Charest and her staff have prepared a report comparing UNC’s salaries and
benefits with those of our peer institutions. The chart showing the Erosion of Take-
Home Pay for an employee making $25,000 sums it up nicely. The cumulative
effect of the increased cost of benefits is a significant reduction in take-home pay.
Note that this chart assumes a constant income. If you factored in the past five
years’ extremely modest pay raises and the yearly changes in the consumer price
index, an even larger decrease in take-home pay would be evident.
Because of this, many staff have had to make hard decisions, and one of them is
whether or not they can afford health insurance and health care for their families. A
number of university employees have had to go “bare” and carry no health insurance
at all for their children and spouses because of the increased cost of premiums,
deductibles, and co-pays. You might say they have been forced to purchase tickets
in the “lottery of family health care.” If their spouses or children do not get sick or
injured, they win. If their families do have medical needs, they lose, because they
have to bear the full cost of services or face possible denial of care. Of course,
wellness- and prevention-oriented health care that might reduce health costs in the
long run are usually out of the question for them. The loss of this group of generally
healthy dependents creates significant problems for the State Health Plan, as well,
leaving it vulnerable to “adverse selection” that causes premiums, deductibles and
coinsurance requirements to continue to increase.
I do want to commend the efforts by our University and the General Administration to
come up with a pilot health care plan proposal last year. I believe that it produced
significant pressure on the State to hire Plan managers who had experience in the
healthcare industry and were more committed to providing a plan with better
coverage. One result is that the State Health Plan is going to offer a new PPO
option this spring. Unfortunately, the cost of the PPO is still too high for many staff
with families needing coverage.
I am asking you to work with our chancellor to seek the necessary authority for the
University system or to promote an overall legislative initiative for the entire State
that will provide the necessary funds to help employees with the cost of providing
health care coverage for their families.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge Chancellor Moeser’s initiative to support a
flexible work environment to help employees mitigate the significantly higher costs of
commuting to work. I encourage the Board of Trustees to pass a measure
supporting his initiative and encouraging the University system as a whole and all
departments, individually, to look for creative solutions to the work commute problem
in the face of an energy situation that promises to get worse, not better, in the
coming months and years.
In closing, I want to thank Mr. Schwab for his interest in coming to our April
Employee Forum meeting and would encourage all of you to take the opportunity to
join us sometime. I personally believe that it is important that the staff be aware of
all the support and good work that the Board of Trustees does for our University.
Your participation in our meetings will allow that to happen in a very direct way, as
well as giving us an opportunity to communicate together on ideas about how to
make our University an even better place to work.
Post Card from Gulfport, MS
In the first week of March, I had the pleasure of going to Gulfport, Mississippi, with a group of 22 men and women from Bald Mountain Church and Welcome Home Baptist Church in Ashe County, North Carolina, to help with the rebuilding effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We made it there after leaving West Jefferson, NC, at 5:30 Sunday morning and riding for 14 hours in a van and a church bus.
When we got there, we had a chance to drive around and survey the damage. You cannot begin to conceive of the extent of the devastation and the amount of debris that is still lying around everywhere. The people down there are working hard and trying to get back on their feet, but with the amount of work left to do, they will need help for a long time.
For the first two days, we worked on the home of Ms. Lottie B. Davis who is 84 years old and the grandma/local advisor for her whole neighborhood. We gutted her kitchen, replaced the floors, put in new cabinets, put up sheetrock, laid floor tile, installed cabinets, and put up a storage building for her. I’ve posted pictures at http://biohelp.bio.unc.edu/gulfportms/ The picture you can see in the Wednesday box is the armory where the men on the trip stayed. On Wednesday we started working on several new projects which will involved sheet rocking, laying floor tile, installing cabinets, etc.
It was an exhausting week, but very much worth the effort. I encourage all of you to take the time to get involved in helping others in some way—whether those others are right in your own back yard or as far away as Gulfport. The rewards are never ending.
The Employee Forum of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is sponsoring a North Carolina voter registration drive for all university employees and students on Tuesday, March 28th, and Wednesday, March 29th, from 10 am to 2 pm on the Pit plaza between the Daniels Building and Lenoir Hall.
Are you a UNC employee who began work on an undergraduate degree, but haven’t been able to finish? The University is pleased to announce that the Employee Part-time Undergraduate Degree-Completion Program is again accepting applications from employees who would like to complete their degrees while continuing employment.
The Undergraduate Degree-Completion Program, a three-year initiative, was launched last year as a result of the Chancellor’s Task Force on a Better Workplace. Now in its second year, the Program will again admit up to ten full-time employees as part-time, degree-seeking students each year.
UNC-Chapel Hill employees who work at least 30 hours a week and have completed more than 50 hours of transferable college credit may apply to the program. Applicants will be admitted on the same basis as other UNC transfer students and will be held to the same standards of performance.
As a benefit to admitted employees, fees will be waived, and participants may take advantage of other employee educational benefits, such as the Tuition Waiver program and the Employee and Dependent Scholarship Program. Employees may also apply for other need-based grants that are available to undergraduates.
For additional information and to download an application, visit the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at www.admissions.unc.edu/applying/employees.htm or the Friday Center at www.fridaycenter.unc.edu/degree.htm . Applications for Fall 2006 admission are accepted now and through the deadline of May 1, 2006. Applicants will be notified by June 1.
All North Carolina employees participating in the state’s NC Flex plan now have a special, toll-free line dedicated just to helping them with their Flex plan problems. The new line, 877-371-2926, was instituted by the plan manager, Aon Consulting, in part as a result of critical feedback from employees who responded to a query by the Employee Forum at UNC-Chapel Hill earlier this year. Wait times of an hour and more were cited as a significant problem when Flex plan subscribers tried to call to straighten out problems with their account.
In an effort to address another problem with the plan’s management, a problem that was also revealed by the survey, Aon Consulting is now conducting an internal audit of its fax-imaging system to try to figure out why faxed documentation of purchases made with the plan’s SmartFlex Debit Card is so often lost.
The Employee Forum was very pleased that its survey generated so much excellent information about the problems that UNC-Chapel Hill employees are having with their Flex accounts. Many of these problems appear to be chronic and systemic. This information is being collated and written up so that it can be shared with key managers and officials at UNC-Chapel Hill, at Aon Consulting, and at the Office of State Personnel, which oversees the Flex program.
If you are having a problem with your Flex account, you can call 877-371-2926 to speak with someone at Aon Consulting. Also, please remember that you can ask your UNC HR Generalist for assistance in straightening out problems with your Flex account. You can find out who your Generalist is by calling 2-4482 or going to http://hr.unc.edu/hrdir on the web.
The Employee Forum held its monthly meeting with high level administrators March 2, sitting down with Vice Chancellor Nancy Suttenfield, Associate Vice Chancellor Laurie Charest and Senior Director for Human Resources Services Claire Miller. Discussion touched on finding ways to involve Forum delegates and other employees earlier in the creation of policies. Of particular note was the timing of the rollout of the draft telework policy. Some delegates wanted the Forum to be involved at an earlier stage in the development of the draft.
Suttenfield noted that many policies at the University are not open for negotiation as they are mandated by federal or state law.
The meeting also addressed finding ways to appoint more line staff members to University committees. Forum Chair Ernie Patterson recalled Chancellor Moeser’s call for co-governance and suggested making staff appointments to various University committees a matter of course. Suttenfield said that University administration now call on the Forum to make these appointments. However, the various schools and departments across campus often follow their own protocols in these matters.
Forum Vice Chair David Brannigan bemoaned the use of informal methods to address formal questions of policy. He said that many questions demand an institutional approach, particularly given the autonomy of these various schools and departments. Patterson said that finding new approaches to resolving policy concerns would save the University time and energy down the road. He praised Miller’s suggestion that Human Resources keep a file of best practices on its web page that Employees could use to make their case for particular policies in discussions with supervisors.
Love makes the world go round, but politics is the organizational grease. We live in interesting times. That’s indisputable. But are these times also inscrutable? To seek the answer to that question, exercise your citizenship. Visit your local political affiliate or attend a town meeting. This is an election year. Exercise your citizenship. Register and vote!
Thanks to Chancellor Moeser for his response to the assault in the Pit on 3/3. After expressing his concern and dismay to the entire campus community, he voiced his deep appreciation: “This is a time when it is important for us all to remember the uncommon spirit that ties our campus community together so strongly. We care about one another and it shows.”
The Chancellor could have been quoting 4- time Employee Forum Chair Tommy Griffin. Tommy was our very own Franklin Roosevelt, the main difference between them being that Tommy survived his 4th term. Not only that, but he stood for election to the NC State Senate, and won the votes per dollar race hands down. Tommy has made a career of acting in good faith.
Like our Chancellor and current Forum Chair, Ernie Patterson, who just returned from a week rebuilding homes on the Gulf Coast, Tommy is eager to engage in ways large and small to help heal a wounded world.