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March 22, 2022 Employee Forum Executive Committee meeting minutes

Attending: Jessye Bongiovanni, Sharron Bouquin, Shane Brogan, Tiffany Carver, Jen DeNeal, Shayla Evans-Hollingsworth, Stephanie Forman, Keith Hines, James Holman, Brigitte Ironside, Arlene Medder, Katie Musgrove, Brooke O’Neal, Laura Pratt, Matthew Teal, Alice Whiteside, Tracy Wetherby Williams, Jacob Womack

Chair Katie Musgrove called the meeting to order at 11:34 a.m. She welcomed delegates to the meeting, thanking all for meeting at this rescheduled time. She welcomed Senior Director of EHRA Non-Faculty HR Vanessa Ragland to speak with the Forum about career banding issues with these employees. Ragland said that due to General Statute 126 the University does not have to abide by many Office of State Human Resources (OSHR) policies for EHRA non-faculty employees. The governing bodies for these employees are the Board of Governors, the Board of Trustees, and the UNC System Office.

One critical element governing EHRA non-faculty employees is management flexibility, which allows campuses to set their own salary ranges instead of relying on OSHR rates. UNC-Chapel Hill can create its own ranges for EHRA non-faculty employees. Back in 2014, the University worked with an external consultant to come up with positional ranges. The previous ranges for these positions were provided by the State and did not work very well for this campus. Ragland said that the State ranges were created with a single market data source, as opposed to the current ranges which sourced national, regional, State, local public, and private market surveys.

Ragland said that all EHRA non-faculty ranges excepting senior academic/administrative officer tier one positions were created by the University. Having created these ranges, the University also can modify them if deemed necessary. The University can go to the Board of Trustees to obtain modifications to ranges in response to significant changes in market rates.

Stephanie Forman asked about the options around career banding and the capacity to increase salaries and salary bands. Ragland said that it is very difficult to obtain salary range changes for SHRA positions whereas EHRA non-faculty ranges were first developed in 2014 and updated in 2019. Planned updates for 2021 were superseded by the pandemic and other issues. Ragland said that she will likely update the ranges this year as the cost for this work is not a large budget item. She noted a difference between UNC-Chapel Hill’s use of eighteen different market survey resources versus the UNC System Office’s ranges. She said that the structure of range levels provides much more flexibility, with more modifications still to come.

Ragland shared the raise process and the average increases for EHRA non-faculty this past year. The average annual raise, a discretionary increase that EHRA non-faculty receive for meritorious performance, was 3.9%, versus 3.69% for faculty and 3.74% for SHRA employees, overall. 57.23% EHRA non-faculty received greater than 4% raises.

Ragland was pleased to note that delegate Shayla Evans-Hollingsworth is now working in the EHRA non-faculty office. She said the office is receiving many requests for increases. The EHRA non-faculty legislative increase provided 2.5% across the board, combined with the discretionary increase which could range up to 5% based on performance. The opportunity for these increases exists as the University is not under a freeze or pause in actions.

Ragland noted the cases of individuals taking on responsibilities for additional duties. She also said that SHRA employees who are seeking additional compensation to stay at the university versus leaving for another position must have an offer in hand before receiving consideration for a retention increase. Labor market increases are also available.

The Chair thanked Ragland for this summary. She shared a document listing ranges for EHRA non-faculty in the chat window. Matthew Teal asked about the offer in hand rule for EHRA non-faculty being used for retention. He thought that if an offer is contingent upon an employee being the selected candidate, the odds of retaining that employee would drop dramatically.

Ragland said that Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Linc Butler and his office have sought flexibility in this area which has not yet been granted. Ragland thought that providing this flexibility for EHRA non-faculty would be very achievable and possibly expected by superstar candidates. Managers might want a preemptive retention, but these actions are not yet available. People may feel that they are already out the door once they have received an offer, perhaps also feeling that the extra money should have been offered long before.

Teal asked about Facilities or Housekeeping Services personnel who make under $40,000 a year. Did Ragland have any statistics as to what percentage of these employees had received a raise? Ragland said she did not have those statistics at hand. Teal thought that these employees would certainly welcome receiving a bit more money. He appreciated Ragland’s offer to obtain these statistics for the committee.

James Holman said that everyone in Housekeeping received letters detailing a pay adjustment. Ragland said that these raises were classified as discretionary. The Chair recalled from conversations with Vice Chancellor Becci Menghini that these raises were to address some of the pressures related to salary compression. She was glad to hear that these letters had gone out to all housekeepers.

The Chair thanked Ragland for her comments and knowledge of this area. She asked if there are any downsides to creating a large shift of SHRA positions to the EHRA non-faculty classification. Ragland recalled that the University recently had a three-year election period in which employees in Finance and possibly law enforcement could choose whether to convert to EHRA non-faculty status.

Ragland said that meetings with these employees had revealed a general concern or fear about the loss of protections associated with SHRA status if they chose to convert to EHRA non-faculty. She thought that people need to understand that North Carolina is an at-will state, not a right-to-work state, meaning that an employer, regardless of classification or employment status could terminate employment for any non-discriminatory reason. She noted that she is an at-will employee whose supervisor could walk in and let her go.

The Chair asked if the same level of documentation is required for EHRA non-faculty disciplinary processes as there is for an SHRA disciplinary action. Ragland said that SHRA employees who have worked for the University for two years achieve vested status. She said that this occurrence does not happen on the EHRA non-faculty side. She explained that an involuntary separation would not happen without a counseling process for SHRA employees. Ragland said that this hypothetical employee would talk with management relations, benefits, and other areas. She noted that her office focuses on grievances because of a belief among some who were terminated that they were let go unfairly.

Ragland thought that the at-will piece is that which scares prospective converts to EHRA non-faculty the most. These people value the progressive disciplinary process associated with the SHRA side. Following thanks from the Chair, Ragland left the meeting.

The Chair then welcomed the Executive Director of the State Employees’ Association of North Carolina (SEANC) Ardis Watkins to speak with the committee. She had listened to the first part of the meeting with interest from her car as she drove to Cullowhee from the Triangle. The Chair asked if Watkins could update the committee on state level career banding salary discussions and possible areas of advocacy.

Watkins said that SEANC was most interested in doing anything that can benefit the most people the quickest given issues around University salaries and possible increases. She noted the great complexity of these questions. She also noted that the UNC System had requested flexibility to reduce salaries in times of great fiscal concern. She did not think broad application of discretionary increases for the University System would occur if the System thought that it needs the ability to cut employee salaries if a blip in the financial picture occurs.

Watkins was skeptical about any manipulations to salaries that does not increase pay. She was concerned that any move to EHRA status for the majority of SHRA employees had been oversold by administrators. She cited the experience of UNC Health and ECU Family Practice employees, who experienced this shift wholesale 20 years ago. She recalled that administrators sold the changeover as a system in which employees would receive salaries they deserve, not limited by the Legislature. Watkins said that in practice these areas have almost never done better and have usually done worse than SHRA legislative increases.

Regarding the EHRA non-faculty system, Watkins said that University staff would be dependent on the Legislature providing big pools of money to the University in trust to disperse these funds to help remain competitive in the market. Watkins said she had seen this deal sold over 20 years but had never seen the type of money necessary to buoy this system for most State employees. Without such provisions of income, Watkins feared that more people would not receive increases at the same rate as employees who remained with the State system.

Watkins noted State Human Resources protections, RIF rights and other legal rights available under the State Human Resources system. As far as career banding, she thought it best to defer to the Employee Forum and other staff councils on the question. She asked the committee’s thoughts on career banding recalling that the subject had been hot back in 2006-07 but not in the modern era.

In response, the Chair asked if Watkins knew anything about the new personnel system to which the University is due to switch to in the future. She knew that other State agencies have adopted this new personnel system, but she had been unable to obtain clear answers about what the new system would entail. She asked what Watkins could say about the University’s status 18 months to two years in the future.

Watkins said that the ultimate issue is money, as career banding is great if the Legislature properly funds the proposal, similar to how moving everyone to EHRA would be great if that proposal is funded adequately. She lamented that no one could articulate how much money will be necessary to implement these ideas. She said that a snapshot comparing certain classes to market rates would show the amount of money necessary to enact this proposal.

Watkins emphasized that lacking any concrete estimate of funds committed, staff employees face a big problem with any such proposal. She said that SEANC would like to advocate for the proposal but would need specific legislative language stating that the University would receive these funds specifically for these purposes. If administrators cannot meet these specifications to the letter, anything could happen, Watkins cautioned.

Stephanie Forman noted the general lack of clarity about the new system, leading the Personnel Issues committee to try to find the next best thing to advocate for. Should the University instead advocate for new salary data and updated rates under the current system? Often, delegates have heard that this proposal is off the table with the new system to come.

Forman commented that the University feels stuck in a limbo, where there is no appetite or interest in updating rates under the current system, but also no information about the new system. This impasse has left the University stuck with salary rates that are years old at this point. She asked Watkins if the Forum should simply push harder for updated rates under the current system.

Watkins replied that the Forum would want to push for updated rates because lacking that data, no one can know what to request in the first place. She did not envision the University pulling funds from unrestricted reserves for this purpose; the new rates would require a legislative appropriation. The Chair asked if Watkins knew the appetite at the State level for this update, given the new system would likely be implemented in the two-year time span mentioned earlier.

Watkins asked what the checkpoints are in which certain things are necessary to complete the new system’s implementation. Lacking these explicit checkpoints, she did not believe that the declared time span would hold. The Chair said that she would pull up presentations by UNC System Vice President Matt Brody on this subject regarding the prospective rollout. Watkins granted that Brody is a good guy who wants to do right by his employees. However, her concerns involve provision of funding rather than a question of intentions. Watkins observed that in her experience in State government, “eighteen to twenty-four months” is a synonym for “we really don’t care” about the immediate future of a project.

Arlene Medder asked if Watkins had seen reports that the State Government is resisting raising salaries because of worries about the economy. Watkins did not think that the Government is in a resistant phase given the 2.5% raise that will occur for everyone this year. She said SEANC’s intention is to build on this increase in terms of across the board raises. Still, these increases do not solve problems in which positions have not kept up with market rate.

Watkins noted that the private sector has also not kept up with its own salary rates, leading to loss of employees to everyone else. She said that this problem will continue, with particularly dreadful effects for institutions needing professionals. She thought that proposing longer-term solutions open the door to uncertain futures in the Legislature. She said that this was the source of her concern about projects lacking benchmarks with timeframes.

Instead, Watkins declared, things must happen now because the economy and the budget is doing well now. The Chair was unable to locate materials related to the proposed shift to the new system, but she recalled that the shift would take eighteen to twenty-four months given the need to redo all the salary bands. She did not recall other specifics from this presentation. Watkins said that the Forum should push for more explicit details and deadlines, otherwise State employees will once again end up not being able to be part of things when the economy and the State budget is healthy.

This pattern of “now’s not the time” has been recited to State employees for decades, while other, usually important and worthy things get implemented. She believed that other North Carolina institutions are writing legislation with big appropriations for things people want because they know that now is the time to act.

Again, she said her question would be, “is there a legislative appropriation being requested” for this system changeover. Lacking such an appropriation request for the legislative short session to begin in May, the proposal does not feel real to her, Watkins said.

Stephanie Forman asked if Watkins knew of a short-term strategy to meet employees’ salary increase needs. She observed that the 2.5% increase and the ARP increases all seem to be “a lot of very little.” She asked if there are short-term steps that SEANC has in mind to take advantage of this moment.

Watkins noted that providing a 1% salary increase for all State employees is an awfully expensive budget item, totaling around half a billion dollars. Still, Watkins thought that the first thing to advocate for is funds to support a banding project with timelines. Staff need to ask for more in addition to the two and a half percent to ensure that the Legislature also fully funds the health plan and contributions to the retirement system, for example.

Watkins was pleased that the Legislature has started funding retirement contributions properly, but the health plan will always be a concern given the prospect of large rate increases leading to excessive out of pocket expenses. Lockdown appropriation on banding is essential, Watkins said.

The Chair asked if SEANC has any wish list items that Watkins would think would gain traction at the State level. Watkins was pleased that the State seems to be emerging from the pandemic. James Holman asked about the State’s current receipt of over one billion dollars a year from Amazon sales taxes that it did not receive previously. He suggested this money go to recurring salaries.

Watkins suggested that the strongest potential political bloc is to combine University concerns with that of community college faculty, as this area ranks among the worst in the country. Non-faculty jobs at community colleges are not experiencing the same trouble competing. Watkins thought that the University System and the Community College system should combine to request use of these Amazon tax dollars for an education fund to aid these areas. She thought this would be the smartest approach.

Watkins praised the work that James Holman has done advocating for housekeepers, and she noted the need to band people together from separate groups to get things funded. She hoped that the two organizations would put together a legislative presentation to concisely lay out the State’s ultimate direction with and without this legislation. Such a presentation should impress upon legislators the need to act to secure the future for their children or grandchildren who want to be part of these systems. The Chair thanked Watkins for her time and remarks.

The Chair then noted that the committee would need to consider the February minutes of the Executive Committee at the April meeting.

Tracy Wetherby Williams and Matt Banks presented the Forum’s monthly budget report. Banks noted that the committee will need to approve next year’s overall budget at the April Executive meeting as well, to meet accepted University practices. The Chair said that the Forum will need to advocate for a direct allocation from the Chancellor’s Office for the Forum’s 30th anniversary event in the next fiscal year.

The committee discussed arrangements for the upcoming community meeting to take place Friday, March 25th. The Chair said that the dress rehearsal had gone well for the meeting. She particularly thanked Jessye Bongiovanni for her work organizing the community meeting. In other business, peer recognition and delegate election emails will go out to campus soon.

The committee then discussed a draft resolution on sexual harassment and sexual assault. The Chair said that the Personnel Issues committee had updated a previous resolution of the Forum. The Chair read the resolution. The committee voted to approve the resolution on first reading to circumvent the two-reading rule and allow approval of the resolution at the April general meeting. Stephanie Forman said that the Personnel Issues committee would consult to firm up resolution details for the second reading in April. Parliamentarian Jacob Womack explained the process involved in approving the resolution in this way.

The Chair noted that the Forum will receive the housekeeping resolution on second reading in April.

Keith Hines reported that organizers may move the Chancellor’s Cup golf tournament to a new location this year due to budgetary considerations. Negotiations continue. He noted that the UNC System Staff Assembly is discussing pressing for a new category of bereavement leave. The Assembly proposed flexibility in community service leave for this purpose, Hines said.

Shane Brogan hoped that the Communications and Public Relations committee would soon publish the next edition of InTouch. He noted that staff shortages have hurt his area, as well. He said that Paul Cardillo plans to meet with delegates later that month to discuss website revisions. Brogan also noted that the Advisory Committee on Transportation is studying the issue of electric scooters on campus.

Brooke O’Neal reported that the Book Club would meet next Thursday. She reported the last event had been successful, with around six attendees. The meeting featured a vibrant conversation among attendees, and she encouraged all listening to attend the next meeting.

Jacob Womack reported that the Community Service committee is in the middle of its March Kindness Drive to provide gifts for the Ronald McDonald House via Amazon. He was pleased that the committee will be able to track donations through the Amazon software.

Jen DeNeal reported that the Carolina Blood Drive committee will have a registration link for the June 7th drive ready by the end of the week. She hoped the Drive could beat its 625-unit goal. She encouraged delegates and others to volunteer or donate at the Drive.

There was no report from the Education & Career Development committee.

Tiffany Carver reported that the Membership & Assignments committee will soon begin work on the 30th anniversary celebration, perhaps hosting it at the Carolina Club. Committee members discussed other options for the 30th anniversary event.

The Chair noted that the new co-chairs of the Recognition & Awards committee will soon begin work on the peer recognition awards selection process.

The Chair noted speakers for the April general meeting.

In the absence of further discussion, the Chair called for a motion to adjourn. Keith Hines made this motion seconded by Tiffany Carver. The meeting adjourned at 11:05 a.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Matt Banks, Recording Secretary

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