Chancellor James C. Moeser gave his annual address to the Employee Forum on November 2nd, using the opportunity to reflect on the measures his office has taken to support employees, look ahead to the changes in leadership that are coming to the Forum and to the University system in general, and praise the work of Forum members.
Moeser reported that Chapel Hill alum Erskine Bowles, who will assume the presidency of the UNC System in 2006, will be his guest for a day-long visit on November 21st in order to hear about the “vision, values, and concerns” of our campus community. “Employees are the heart of that community,” Moeser said. “I hope he takes that message away with him.”
Moeser cited two recent achievements that have helped to improve the quality of life for workers on campus. The first is the opening of the Ombuds Office, which was the #1 recommendation to come out of the Chancellor’s Task Force for a Better Workplace. The office, said Moeser, creates a place where employees at all levels in the University can deal confidentially with issues in a “healing and constructive” way before they become serious.
“If you haven’t gotten to know them, yet, I hope you will,” he said. [Ed. Note: The Ombuds Office welcomes casual visits and inquiries from employees, as well as confidential inquiries about matters of immediate concern. They can be contacted at 843-8204.]
The second achievement Moeser cited was his recent decision to increase the salaries of the lowest-paid workers on campus to a minimum of $20,800 per year. This measure affected 340 employees scattered across 20 different departments on campus.
“I know that salaries are on everyone’s mind,” he said. “And not just compensation, but the bottom line.” While state employees appreciated the 2% pay increase given by the Legislature this year, he observed, it was not enough to keep up with the sharply increasing out-of-pocket costs of health care under the existing State plan.
Moeser cited this as yet another way in which the State’s salary and benefits package is not competitive with the private sector or with peer institutions. If we fail to address these issues, he said, the University will face more and more serious problems in recruiting and retaining the quality workers that it needs to maintain its status as a leading public university.
“I look forward to partnering with you to bring these issues to the attention of the General Assembly,” he said to Forum members. “I admire your willingness to come together and give of your time and energy to make employees’ voices heard. You make the University a better place.”
Forum Delegates received an unexpected treat in the November meeting when former U.S. Senator and 2004 vice presidential candidate John Edwards spoke about his work as Director of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity. The purpose of the poverty center, Edwards said, is to focus on why people live in poverty and what we can do about it. Helping people deal with poverty is not about charity, he said, but about justice and fairness and treating people with dignity and respect. Edwards said he shared goals with the Forum, including better pay for workers and the right to collectively bargain.
When former Forum Chair and returning delegate John Heuer asked about national priorities, Edwards responded that the priorities of American people are not those of the Bush administration. The nation, he said, needs to understand that health care is not a privilege but a right for everyone. He pointed out that while the country has supposedly been experiencing an economic recovery, the recovery has been limited to the rich. Working people, on the other hand, have seen stagnant or reduced wages while prices have gone up, particularly on gasoline, and millions more live in poverty now than at the start of Bush’s presidency.
Delegate Chuck Brink asked about specific ideas and programs to take care of issues. Edwards responded with a long list of specific suggestions, starting with raising the national minimum wage to $7.50. He said that everyone in the US needs to have health care coverage, which could be provided by either the market or the government, and that this is a huge competitive issue for our country. Other specific suggestions aimed at addressing poverty issues included work bonds, where the government matches what working families are able to save; housing vouchers, to help create economic and racial integration of neighborhoods, instead of the unhealthy situation of the poor clustered together; making college education accessible, so that students willing to work ten hours per week get tuition and books free; expanding the earned income tax credit; and reforming labor laws, empowering workers to organize. The last specific idea Edwards mentioned was to let the people of New Orleans rebuild their city, rather than giving a contract to Halliburton to bring outsiders in to do the rebuilding. This would allow the people who lost homes to Hurricane Katrina, Edwards said, to have decent wages and benefits, rather than lining the pockets of Halliburton.
After his November 2nd talk to the Employee Forum, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James C. Moeser was asked about his participation in an advisory committee for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which wants to find easier ways to intercept citizens’ email messages in order to improve intelligence-gathering capabilities.
Moeser is one of 20 university leaders appointed to the committee. Their inclusion is intended to promote two-way communication between intelligence agencies and the nation’s institutions of higher education, who could be hard-hit by any new requirements that might be mandated for the management of electronic communications systems.
Moeser replied that while it has been technologically easy for law enforcement agencies to tap telephone conversations (with a court order), it has not been easy for them to intercept email communications. Of particular interest are communications into and out of research institutions like universities, where important research is conducted and sensitive information might be transmitted.
The higher education community, reports Moeser, feels that such monitoring is both unnecessary and cost-prohibitive. Millions of dollars would be required to reconstruct the mail servers at UNC-Chapel Hill alone to allow the kind of oversight that government intelligence agencies would like, he observed. The funds to do so would not be provided by the government, but would have to come out of our campus’ already-exhausted pockets. If forced to make these changes, he admitted, finding the necessary funds could mean tuition hikes, the reallocation of funds and, possibly, cutting staff positions.
In the end, said Moeser, the task force is faced with a set of competing issues that need to be wisely balanced: the need to address legitimate national security concerns, the need to protect the privacy of citizens, and the cost of mandating significant changes to existing IT systems. It is a triad of complex issues, he said, that are not likely to be resolved very quickly.
In October, the Office of State Personnel (OSP) placed a freeze on classification and reclassification actions for all state employee positions. This was to allow human resources departments at state agencies to implement career banding more quickly. Career banding is a classification system that reduces the number of classification titles while increasing the size of salary ranges, and many state agencies have not deployed career banding as quickly as the OSP would like. However, UNC-Chapel Hill has been active in rolling out career banding, is on schedule, and has been helping the OSP by doing pilot career banding programs. Freezing classification actions would have been a significant hindrance to the work of Human Resources and would have hurt the University and employees in a variety of ways. As a result, UNC-Chapel Hill requested and received an exemption from the freeze.
Here are the winners in the Forum’s annual delegate elections.
Division 1: Chimi Boyd, Linwood Futrelle, Lucy Lewis, Jonathan Zerulik
Division 2: David Brannigan, Anthony Eubanks, Frederick Moore, Ruth Riggsbee
Division 3: Alan Moran, Keith Morris
Division 4: Sue Field, Beth Graves, Jane Majors
Division 5: Patricia Burnette, Ramona Kellam, Linette Tyson
Division 6: Sharon Hoyt
Division 7: Cheryl Blake, Camilla Crampton, John Heuer, Ernie Patterson, Antoinette Satterfield, Ann Selph, Brian Whitling
Division 8: Greg Alvord, Barbara Eucker, Martha Fowler, David Harrison, Curtis Helfrich, Karen Rowe, Jane Tornow, Beverly Wyrick
Division 9: Liz Crowley, Ellen Hill
The Employee Forum will host a Community Forum on Health Insurance with special guests George Stokes, State Health Plan Director, Ellie Kinnaird, State Senator and Katherine Graves, Member UNC System Health Plan Initiative Task Force, among other guests. The meeting will take place Wednesday, November 30, from 9-11 a.m. in the Hitchcock Room of the Stone Center, which is located adjacent to the Bell Tower parking lot.
Attendance at an Employee Forum community meeting is considered work time when it occurs
during an Employee’s regular work schedule. Request time to attend from your supervisor
in advance so you won’t risk missing this important semi-annual event.
American legend Rosa Parks died last month in my hometown of Detroit at the age of 92. Ms. Parks moved to Detroit in the ‘60’s to escape the harassment and threats from her fellow Alabamans, following her notoriety as an icon of the modern Civil Rights Movement in America. I moved from the North to the Southern part of Heaven 30 years ago, and I can only imagine what level of persecution would drive a native of the sunny southland to the cold confines of the sputtering motor city.
Rosa Parks’ funeral was underway as the Forum met on 11/2/05. On that day, the Forum honored one of our own civil rights heroes by unanimously endorsing a resolution to recognize Joe Straley’s life-long commitment as an “advocate for peace, security, freedom and justice for all people.” Joe joined the faculty of the Physics Department in 1947. Except for stints at Harvard and Rome, Joe served as a UNC faculty member until his retirement in 1980. When you look at Joe’s resume, you’ll find three dominant themes. First, he was interested in spectral microscopy. He wanted to see how life functions at the atomic level. Second, was the articulation of physics. He wanted to translate the esoteric lexicon of science into layman’s terms. Finally, he was interested in the development of sustainable, locally produced sources of energy. The man was a visionary. Over the last 25 years, until his death in September, he was as active a retiree as you could hope to meet. He led delegations to the US Congress as often as he appeared at the Franklin St. post office to support human rights for all, and he had one of the heartiest laughs you could ever hope to hear.
I wonder what Rosa Parks and Joe Straley would have to say to our former senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards. Mr. Edwards was a guest of the Forum during our 11/2 meeting, to talk about the Center for Work, Poverty and Opportunity, which he leads from one of his alma maters, the Carolina School of Law.
Now our current political circumstance is a bit of a wonderment. Large majorities of Americans support a universal right to health care, support for the United Nations, respect for international law, release from our dependency on foreign owned fossil fuels, environmental protection, and living wages for all workers. However, our one party government opposes these measures, and to call “loyal opposition” Democrats tepid would be charitable, to say the least.
How did we get into this fix? Should we look to the company owned media and their corporate giants, which incidentally own our military-industrial-academic complex? Should we look to our electronic voting machines, which any junior high schooler worth her salt could hack? What’s ahead for our next presidential election in 2008?
Presumed Democratic front runner Hilary Clinton was recently accused of missing her “Rosa Parks moment” when she voted to give President Bush unlimited Cesarean authority to employ US military forces in what we now know to have been the greatest fraud perpetrated against the American people since “Remember the Maine” in 1898. To his credit, John Edwards regrets his support for endorsing the Bush administration’s enthusiasm for war against Iraq in 2003. More to his credit, Edwards shared some bold ideas with Forum delegates. He spoke of universal health care as a right of citizenship; endorsed living wages and collective bargaining for workers, public and private; he advocated redressing the age old, and ever widening imbalance of assets between race and class.
But until John Edwards challenges the notion of the misguided project of American empire, he is not likely to galvanize Democrats, much less Independents or Republicans, red state or blue. We can imagine Rosa Parks and Joe Straley saying, “Speak up, John.”
John Heuer, 2001 Forum Chair, 2006-2007 delegate