On behalf of the UNC Chapel Hill Employee Forum, I would like to thank all staff
employees for their hard work and dedication to making UNC a better place for everyone to work, study, and even play. During the coming year, all of us will need to face difficult and complex issues that affect both us as individuals and our families. Two of the most important issues are the cost of health care and the lack of fair and equitable salary increases from the legislature for all state employees.
We all know that health insurance costs went up again last year. With the higher cost, more employees than ever before have found themselves unable to afford health care for their families. This has happened not only because health insurance costs went up, but also because state employees’ real income has gone down. During the five years from July 2000 to July 2005, the average UNC staff employee lost almost 1% per year of real income because the salary adjustments approved by the legislature failed to keep up with the rate of inflation.
The Employee Forum will be working with the University in 2006 on these and many other issues. To do this, we need your help and active support. First, we need to work hard to educate our University leaders, our state government leaders, and our fellow citizens in North Carolina about what good jobs state employees are doing. Then we need to insist that fair and equitable pay raises and benefits packages for state employees be considered by the legislature at the beginning of the state budget process, not at the end when all we get is whatever is left over.
I encourage each employee on this campus to get involved in two ways.
First, take an active role in the educational mission of the Forum as we talk to our leaders this year. Keep your eyes on the InTouch newsletter for info about ways you can get involved.
Second, take some time to talk to Forum members and give them ideas on what else the Forum can do to make UNC a better place for everyone to work. You can find a list of Forum members and their contact info by going to www.unc.edu/forum and click on Delegates.
We on the Forum look forward to working for you–and with you–in the coming year.
Ernie Patterson, Chair, UNC Chapel Hill Employee Forum
At its December 7th meeting, outgoing and newly elected members of the Employee Forum chose four officers to lead the group for the coming year.
Ernie Patterson, a tech support specialist in the Biology Department, was elected to replace Tommy Griffin as Chair of the Forum. David Brannigan, a grounds technician and chair of last year’s very active Personnel Issues Committee, will replace Patterson as Vice-chair, while the roles of Secretary and Treasurer will be filled by Brenda Denzler (an information and communications specialist) and Jane Majors (an accounting technician), respectively.
Griffin’s departure as Chair of the Forum was an emotional event for many Forum members, not least among them Griffin himself, who was given a plaque honoring his 12 years of Forum service. Despite stepping down from a formal leadership role, Griffin indicated that he plans to continue actively working on the issues that matter to all State employees.
“I don’t want to give up our dream of achieving fair pay and benefits for all state employees, and making sure that everyone who works for the State gets treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “I’m just going to take the struggle to Raleigh, now.”
As incoming Chair, Ernie Patterson expressed his appreciation for the work that Griffin had done and promised to continue to cultivate the relationships that Griffin forged with the University administration, the Office of the UNC President and the legislature. In particular, Patterson said, he wants to draw more employees into an active role in educating state leaders about the “difficult and complex issues” that face them, such as rising health care costs and inadequate pay raises.
“By working together,” he said, “we can make a real difference.”
Incoming Vice-chair David Brannigan promised to work to help the Forum speak out forcefully in support of more just and equitable pay raises and improved access to health care for State employees, promising to initiate a “’Living Wage Education and Information Campaign’ to explain why everyone who works full time should earn enough to be able to provide for their family.”
“It is not acceptable to try to be the number one public university in the country,” he said during his campaign, “without an equally meaningful commitment to ensuring that employees’ pay, health care costs and working conditions are commensurate with this ambition.”
He also promised to work on critical workplace issues such as short staffing, increased workloads and staff turnover.
The Forum has tentative plans for a report on team cleaning at the Forum’s February 4 meeting. Team cleaning is the controversial method of organizing housekeepers, advocated by Facilities Services Director Jim Alty. We hope to hear from Forum delegate Roberta Massey, a member of the UNC-Chapel Hill housekeeping staff, who visited the University of Texas for a first-hand look at team cleaning in practice. We also hope to hear from student activists with Student Action with Workers, a labor support organization at UNC-Chapel Hill. Pencil this one in on your calendar, because it might be interesting.
Some 200 staff members packed in the Presentation Room at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center on November 30. The topic was health care. The meeting was organized by incoming Employee Forum Chair Ernie Patterson and convened by four-year graduate Chair Tommy Griffin.
Dan Soper represented the State Health Plan, and Senator Ellie Kinnaird brought her independent view from the NC Legislature. Forum delegate Katherine Graves spoke on behalf of the University community. The NC Justice Center was represented by Sorien Schmidt and UNC grad Adam Searing. (http://www.ncjustice.org/)
Mr. Soper was definitely handicapped by just two months on the job and admitted that he still has a lot to learn. Katherine Graves expressed her disappointment that the legislature had shelved the proposed UNC Pilot Health Plan. One of the innovations of the pilot program was the agreement by UNC faculty to endorse a sliding premium scale for university faculty and staff across our 16 campuses.
The issue of health care bears directly on the Forum’s campaign for a living wage, which is also one of the primary concerns of the NC Justice Center. The event featured stories from attendees about access, affordability, confusion, and the punitive tendencies of our current health care distribution system. See http://gazette.unc.edu/morestories.html#7 for a summary of the meeting.
Should health care be rationed for health or wealth? Representative Verla Insko has introduced legislation that would make health care a right of citizenship. Check out http://www.ncdefendhealthcare.org/ for more information on this legislation. As Senator Kinnaird attested, our State Health Plan is an instrument of our state government. Her advice is to “Go to the top.” To contact your representatives, go to http://www.ncgov.com/asp/subpages/intention.asp?P=4&I=7. You can make your voice heard.
Employees at UNC-Chapel Hill might be interested in knowing just how much money it takes to meet basic living expenses in the state.
According to a newly released report from the Justice Center and the NC Budget and Tax Center, two parents with two children in Orange County need to earn almost $53,000 per year. Families in neighboring counties, where many UNC employees live to escape the high costs of housing in Orange County, have it better. They just need $43,000 (in Alamance), $49,000 (in Chatham), or $50,000 (in Durham). Of course, those figures probably don’t take into account the costs that UNC employees incur when they commute in to Orange County for work.
The full report is called “Failing Jobs, Falling Wages: The 2005 North Carolina Living Income Standard,” and is available for reading or downloading at http://www.ncjustice.org/media/library/551_livingincome2005.pdf.
A few years ago when employees were asked how UNC-Chapel Hill could be a better place to work, one of the suggestions was to make more opportunities available for staff to improve their job skills.
As a result of this feedback, 138 employees are now enrolled in one of eight special certificate programs sponsored by the Office of Human Resources’ Training & Development Department. According to Associate Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Laurie Charest, five employees have already completed one of these programs.
In addition to courses leading to certification, there are nearly 100 courses offered through HR Training & Development on a wide variety of work-related and personal improvement topics. Attendance at these courses is considered work time, with the approval of your supervisor.
For more information on what classes are available and how you can sign up, contact the Training and Development Department at 962-2550 or visit www.training.unc.edu. For information on the certificate programs, call the same number or go to hr.unc.edu.
Employees of the State of North Carolina who have just retired are facing unexpected problems in getting their first retirement checks, according to Laurie Charest, Associate Vice Chancellor of Human Resources at UNC-Chapel Hill.
At the December 7th meeting of the Employee Forum, Charest reported that due to an unusually high number of retirements statewide this fall, the system is two to three months behind in processing the paperwork that is necessary before the first checks or direct deposits can be issued.
To help uncompensated retirees make ends meet until their regular checks arrive, the State Retirement System has arranged for them to get interest-free loans from the State Employees’ Credit Union.
Charest said that the surge in retirement applications was likely brought about by the recent changes in the retirement and re-employment laws, which went into effect October 1st. However, she pointed out, there would still be steadily increasing demands on the State system due to the fact that so many of the Baby Boomers are beginning to reach retirement age.
Retirees and current employees with questions about the delay or the SECU loan program can contact the State Retirement Office in Raleigh at (919) 733-4191.
The Employee Forum unanimously approved a resolution honoring Tommy Griffin, the Forum’s chair from 2002-2005, an honorary lifetime delegate to the Forum, inviting him to return and participate in future meetings. Griffin was a charter member of the Employee Forum in 1993 and returned to the Forum in 1996 and 1997. His four year tenure as chair was unprecedented in the Forum’s twelve year history. Griffin’s leadership led to increased salaries for the lowest-paid employees at UNC, a tiered parking permit increase plan to benefit those same lowest-paid workers, staff representation on the Board of Trustees Finance committee, and closer ties with faculty, students and administrators and among staff at the other fifteen UNC System institutions, among many other accomplishments. He will be missed.
This is my last issue as Editor of the InTouch newsletter. I have worked on the InTouch for four years, three years as Editor, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I would like to thank the members of the Communications Committee who contributed their time and efforts to publishing the InTouch and improving the Forum’s web page. It was a small committee, often with just two or three of us doing the writing, and one web expert revamping the web pages, so it took a lot of work by each of us. While I will not be Editor in the upcoming year, you can expect to see some opinion pieces from me in 2006.
Highlights of my time as Editor include working with four-year Forum Chair Tommy Griffin and editing his monthly messages, being careful to preserve his distinctive turns of phrase. It was also a pleasure to publish impassioned opinion pieces by Forum delegate David Brannigan, who was elected Vice Chair this month, and by former Forum Chair and recently reelected delegate John Heuer. In addition, I was delighted to hear John Edwards speak at the November 2005 Forum meeting and to report the things he said. I would have liked to print more opinion pieces from employees, whether or not I agreed with them, because it makes for good reading and gets people’s attention.
The 2006 Forum hopes to place a greater emphasis on communicating the Forum’s message, both within the InTouch and through other media. This is necessary to achieving the Forum’s goals, and it will require a larger Communications Committee and substantial time and effort on the part of members of the committee and other delegates.