November 2, 2022 Employee Forum Minutes
Delegates Attending: Vanessa Blake, Randall Borror, Sharron Bouquin, David Bragg, Shane Brogan, Tiffany Carver, Michael Case, Elizabeth DuBose, Jay Eubank, Adrianne Gibilisco, Chrissie Greenberg, Leah Hefner, Jessi Hill, Shayna Hill, Keith Hines, Ta’Keyah Holder, James Holman, Rebecca Howell, Brigitte Ironside, Kira Jones, Stacy Keast, Evan Marsh, Amber Meads, Arlene Medder, David Michaud, Katie Musgrove, Joseph Ormond, Sara Pettaway, Charlissa Rice, Kelly Scurlock-Cross, Lori Shamblin, Theresa Silsby, Sarah Smith, Jake Stallard, James Stamey, Janet Steele, Kurt Stolka, Matthew Teal, Julie Theriault, Tracy Wetherby-Williams, Alice Whiteside, Tracey Wiley, Michael Williams, Tyrone Williams, Jacob Womack
Excused: L.E. Alexander, Lonnie Hawley, Todd Hux, Laura Pratt
Chair Katie Musgrove called the meeting to order at 9:16 a.m. She welcomed Burton Craig Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence Michael Gerhardt to speak about free speech and guidelines for staff employees related to free speech. She recalled Gerhardt’s remarks at the recent Faculty Council meeting and thought it useful to feature his thoughts for staff as well.
Gerhardt appreciated the invitation and said he would begin with a relatively brief description of first amendment law applying generally to campus and campus staff. To begin, public universities especially have a role putting various conditions on speech, whether in formal operations or meetings. Thus, it would be legal for the university to tell someone in the School of Public Health that it does not want an employee speaking publicly about abortion on behalf of the university. This example is subject to an exception.
However, the university cannot tell people what to think and say in their private lives or private capacity. The first amendment should protect a staff employee speaking for themselves privately. What demands more care are situations in which an employee is speaking at a time of day, for example, when the employee is supposed to be working for the University. Other considerations would include whether the employee is expressing themselves while wearing a UNC uniform or insignia. In these cases, the university can restrict a fair bit of expression. When people are on university time, their professional time, or when they are wearing UNC uniform or insignia, or when they are speaking on campus or in the classroom, or somewhere else they are supposed to be speaking because of their job, the university has license to restrict expression.
The university cannot tell an employee what to say once an employee clocks out. At that point, employees have the same freedom of speech protections that every other citizen in this country has. The only restriction is that an employee must be aware of and make sure there is no confusion around who the employee is speaking on behalf of.
Gerhardt noted that various situations raise questions about first amendment rights on campus. The first, and probably toughest question, has to do with protesting. The first amendment would probably protect the university in limiting the size of protests and limiting the location, signage, or any number of other things at protests, as long as the university’s actions are “even-handed.” The university cannot make it easier for one party to say something than another party, for example.
To begin, everyone would have the right to protest governmental action, and as a state university, UNC-Chapel Hill’s actions constitute governmental action. However, in the case of a protest made on one’s time off, the employee would still be subject to whatever conditions the university places on protests on campus. The university can set spacing or timing requirements for protests but cannot regulate people engaged in that protest while not on university time or showing that they are an official part of the university.
Gerhardt observed that these questions can quickly become tricky. Government will try to place conditions on expression on its property all the time, and those challenging these conditions must be aware of these limitations or conditions before engaging in expression. Gerhardt said that this is the relevant framework for this discussion and granted that other situations would demand more analysis.
The Chair asked how best to decide the line between official representation and personal representation when engaging in expression. She asked if in the role of university employees and Forum delegates, would there be a line that the university could observe between employees speaking on behalf of the university versus speaking about employee roles at the university.
Gerhardt said that the university could probably place conditions on employees speaking on either the university or their role at the university. These conditions could be placed on faculty as well as staff, and even people visiting campus for one reason or another.
On the other hand, Gerhardt noted that a documentarian doing a project on the history of UNC’s links to slavery and Jim Crow would have more leeway for expression in that project, even as administrators might not be happy that people working at the university are speaking as part of that documentary. He thought that employees in similar situations should know that they are free to engage in expression but should make absolutely clear the timing for these remarks. For example, an employee speaking after six p.m. should emphasize that they are speaking for themselves, not for the university. By making such disclaimers, it becomes more difficult for the university to limit you.
Gerhardt asserted that it is in the university’s interest to narrow the opportunities in which its employees feel free to speak, and to make it as hard as possible to engage in expression. Obviously, faculty and staff employees’ interests are to expand their opportunities for freedom of expression. This is a dynamic which Gerhardt said requires a firm stance by university administrators in support of the first amendment rights of faculty, students, and staff. He hoped that university leadership would support freedom of expression, especially about issues and topics important for public discussion.
Gerhardt said that the university will have the constitutional leeway to limit the time, place, or manner of electoral expression. However, again the university cannot create unequal circumstances in which support for one side of a question gets to express itself, but another side does not.
James Hollman noted that last week housekeepers protested at South Building, with the event making the television news. He asked if this protest were legal and what would be the repercussions against protesting employees if the protest were not deemed legal. Gerhardt advised that those planning or conducting a protest should try to obtain permission beforehand. He thought that one needs a license or some kind of official permission to engage in a protest. Secondly, assuming that the protest has been licensed and it is taking place in the area and the manner in which university regulations require, the next area of concern is not to wear uniforms or other insignia connected with the University, and not to protest during a time in which attendees should be working. Thirdly, the protest should not take place in a way that will disrupt the activity of campus.
So, if a group of protestors, composed of staff employees and students, storms a university administrative building, and occupies the Chancellor’s office, this activity will be difficult for the first amendment to protect since it interferes with the ordinary business of campus. He reiterated that any protest should be done during employees’ off time without any kind of UNC paraphernalia and should be done in a manner that does not interfere with the business of campus.
Provost Chris Clemens commented on this question, noting that South Building administrators knew that the protest would occur, which generally meant that the protest had been approved in advance. Clemens personally went to listen to the event outside the building for a bit.
Clemens noted the large feeling of sympathy for the requests of the housekeepers in South Building. He could not state unequivocally that everything was done correctly, but he thought that the protest was peaceful and fully appropriate. The Chair thanked Clemens for these remarks.
The Chair asked about the students who participated in the protest, as to whether their participation is considered to be university time. She suspected that students would be treated differently in this analysis than staff employees. Gerhardt noted the difficulty of a full-time student disassociating themselves from being a student. He said that in that circumstance, it would be important for the university to have reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions and that the students follow these. He added that reasonable time, place of manner, or regulation restrictions are completely authorized for the university. However, these restrictions cannot be viewpoint-based and must be neutral with respect to messages and content. If regulations favor one viewpoint over another, they become problematic constitutionally.
The Chair relayed a chat question asking about relevant and legitimate discussions in class which could overlap with what could be considered protest. Gerhardt said that in this situation as with many others, context matters. Where and how a protest is conducted, as well as what is said are all interrelated. He noted that classrooms exist for certain purposes, the most obvious of which is to teach, with professors considered the experts in what teaching entails.
Gerhardt said that a line exists between teaching and indoctrination to a particular personal agenda, which is not appropriate. A professor teaching constitutional law will likely have the topic of abortion come up in the course of study and discussion of the fourteenth amendment. Different viewpoints on current law as well as historical questions would be explored. This example falls squarely within the teaching criterion.
However, if a professor were to stand up in class and state that “we all vote next Tuesday, and everyone should vote for X or Y because of their stances on abortion,” this statement would not fall within the teaching exemption and is quite possibly illegal in North Carolina. In this case, university or state sanction for this expression would be perfectly legitimate.
The line between these instances is generally drawn a couple of different ways, the first being the way the line is drawn. The line should be straight and clear to all parties. Secondly, the question is how reasonably the line is drawn. Gerhardt said that the other way the line is drawn is through a balancing of different factors. Overall, being aware of the context in which one makes remarks is important, being “aware of where you are, when you’re doing, [and] what you’re doing.”
Rebecca Howell raised a question via the chat. What responsibility does the university have to explain its requirements without being intimidating? In other words, do administrators have a responsibility to explain things in an even-handed, clear, and understandable way? The Chair added, could employers require employees to sign or acknowledge specific policies, and not others?
Gerhardt replied that it is always good for the university to make its policies and regulations clear. A first amendment question can arise if the policy is vague, leaving no one to know what to do and leading one to refrain from doing things that are protected. Alternatively, a policy can be overbroad. Courts will assess the constitutionality of different regulations in different ways. Is the policy clear, and is the point of clarity to provide notice, and does the policy go too far? Gerhardt said that these answers depend entirely on context. Gerhardt asked Clemens to speak further on this topic.
Clemens commented on the responsibility of the university to be clear, noting the number of policies at the university. He recalled Vice Provost Leah Cox’ policy review which was an attempt to find policies that are written in a language that might be unclear because of legalese. He said that the university can rewrite these policies, following Cox’ example.
Clemens said that the university is trying to fulfill this responsibility, as obviously it is not good to have policies that one cannot read and understand. In terms of acknowledgment of policies, Clemens added that the university has trainings that employees must take and will receive reminders in their absence. This is not done for every policy, but acknowledgment comes up in federal and state requirements, or when a policy comes out that requires acknowledgment of its importance. He was not greatly familiar with the case that Howell referred to but said that he was not aware of instances in which employees must acknowledge receipt of a policy or face meetings with their supervisors. He offered to discuss the question further with the Chair and other administrators if needed following the meeting.
The Chair thanked Gerhardt for his remarks. She thought that perhaps the Forum could put these pointers into a document for staff consumption. She further thought that employees lacking this information stand at a disadvantage in dealings with the university.
The Chair welcomed Vice Provost Leah Cox from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Cox noted that employees should have received via email a request to fill out a campus climate survey from her office. She said that the university has not conducted such a survey since 2016, meaning this data needs an update.
Cox urged listeners to respond to the survey, which asks each individual’s Carolina experience, including how one feels about events on campus, whether one feels welcome, a sense of belonging, ignored, or otherwise. Cox emphasized that the survey seeks to hear the good and the bad because this is the only way for her office to begin addressing some of these issues. She said that the office would share its report once surveys are analyzed in the spring. The email originated from Viewfinder and offered incentives for completion. She asked delegates to convince their colleagues to fill out the survey.
Keith Hines asked the deadline to complete the survey, and when would a reminder email be sent? Cox said that the deadline is November 18th. The survey is quick and should not require more than fifteen minutes. Reminder emails will go out once a week.
The Chair then welcomed Gorge Battle, Vice Chancellor for Institutional Integrity and Risk Management, and Professor Rebecca Fry, Carol Remmer Angele Endowed Professor of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, to discuss recent testing for lead in campus buildings. Battle said that the most common source of lead in drinking water is from pipes, faucets, and fixtures. Lead in drinking water can emerge when material in these items starts to corrode. OWASA, the Orange County Water and Sewer Authority, adds corrosion inhibitors to municipal water to help guard against this process. Recent surveys have shown that municipal water does not have lead, meaning that the campus’ lead issues are contained on campus.
Battle said that the Environmental Protection Agency requires water systems to act on lead when measurements in samples of the water taken measure more than fifteen parts per billion. This rule does not apply to the university as it obtains water from OWASA, but the university has used this figure as a reference in its testing.
Now, as the university discovers lead in buildings, even measuring less than fifteen parts per billion, the university is acting to replace and repair fixtures. The university has taken a phased approach to water testing. In August, the university was alerted to the potential issue in Wilson Library, leading to the series of tests done since.
The first phase of testing examined drinking water fixtures that potentially contained components based on a building’s age or construction factors. The second phase, which was just completed last week, tested drinking water fixtures and buildings that were built in or prior to 1930. Now, phase three involves similar testing of fixtures and buildings built in or prior to 1990.
Battle said that during testing, Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) takes drinking fountains offline, with water coolers installed as an alternate water source in the meantime. EHS will make sure that everyone on campus has access to safe drinking water while their building is being tested. Should the university have to act to repair or replace fixtures, building workers and occupants will receive the option of testing for lead levels in their blood. This testing will be done free of charge.
The Chair welcomed Rebecca Fry to speak on the health effects of lead exposure. Fry works in the Gillings School of Global Public Health and the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering. She runs the Super Fund research program, the Institute for Environmental Health Solutions and is part of leadership in the Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility. She has spent her career researching health effects of exposures to toxic metals and biological mechanisms associated with disease and solutions for prevention. She was called in to serve as a scientific advisor in this instance and has been active recruiting students to help collect water samples.
Fry said that toxic metals are really everywhere in the environment. She also mentioned that there are differences between children and adults in the harms caused by lead exposure. These effects depend on many factors, including the age of the individual, the concentration of the toxic metal, and the duration of the exposure. Risk is thus “individualized,” with the developing fetus and young children most vulnerable. Adverse health effects have been associated with chronic exposure through work in mining or welding for adults.
From the toxicology standpoint, Fry said that there is no safe level of lead consumption. This is the reason that the university is acting aggressively and using an abundance of caution in providing clean drinking water in any building in which lead is identified. Chronic exposure to lead is associated with health outcomes affecting neurology, cardiovascular systems, kidney disease, and reproductive disorders. Much of this data comes from adults experiencing chronic exposure through sustained work-related exposures.
Fry said that blood tested for adults would be considered actionable at five micrograms per deciliter. At this point there have not been concerning blood levels in testing for students or staff at UNC. Again, testing is free for anyone in an affected building.
Fry said that the university is working to develop an FAQ document and is able to rely on several strong and well-regarded environmental science programs at UNC, as well as information from the EPA, the CDC, and the World Health Organization.
Erin Spandorf asked if the lead problem is only associated with building fixtures, or could the problem be with deteriorating pipes that feed into the buildings. Battle said that depends on the building. In Spencer Dormitory, for example, there were so many fixtures that had evidence, leading investigators to conclude that the fixtures are not the problem, and that Spencer has a piping problem. In some buildings in which there are multiple fixtures, and in which only one tests for lead, this singular finding leads to conclusions that there is not an issue with the pipes. Battle said that a larger incidence of lead findings indicate that lead is in the pipes. The University will follow these conclusions and make repairs as required.
James Holman asked in the chat why buildings affected only have one water cooler, often not positioned near water fountains. Battle said that in some buildings there may be other sources of portable water, so that only one water cooler is needed. Still, there should be an accessible water cooler in every place in which testing is occurring. He would provide this feedback to Facilities.
Keith Hines asked how concerned one should be if they lived in these buildings. He also asked how often the buildings were tested for lead prior to this year. Battle said that to the university’s knowledge, the buildings have not been tested for lead previously. Unfortunately, there have been no guidelines for universities or other areas outside of water systems. Fry added that anyone concerned about their possible levels of exposure should have a blood test done. This test will highlight recent exposure, as the half life of lead in blood is only about a month. So, prior exposure would not be detected now.
The Chair thanked Battle and Fry for their remarks and responses to questions. She moved to Provost Clemens’ roundtable and asked that he provide any updates from the administration. Clemens said that the university is about to charge the committee for the Kenan-Flagler Business School Dean’s search. Additionally, the university is moving ahead with the University Librarian search process. In December, the university will make an announcement regarding a vice provost position.
The university is working on building curriculum for the School of Data Science and is continuing work with the UNC System Office on a return-on-investment study. The UNC System Office has hired a consultant to compile these numbers.
Clemens added that the university is entering budget season, whereby units will provide budget requests to decisionmakers. He offered to take questions from the body. Matthew Teal asked if Clemens could speak in more detail regarding the Finance & Operations (F&O) memo mentioned earlier, as to its legal validity and its consistency with the university’s policy on freedom of speech and expression. Clemens thought he could comment in broad terms regarding the memo but not in legal terms as he is not a lawyer. He was not aware of the language in the memo, and upon perusing a copy, said that he would ask University Counsel for their comments regarding the questions Teal raised. Clemens said he had learned to forward questions to Communications generally, as that office commonly has a context that he did not have.
Clemens also said that generally, one cannot be told not to speak to the media as an individual. Instead, one cannot speak to the media on behalf of the institution without designation. He thought that the memo should be read in that spirit, noting the institutional risk if an employee speaks to the media, providing personal opinions in their role as an affiliated employee. He would seek further information from University Counsel before speaking to the specific memo’s contents, however.
The Chair agreed that context is everything in these cases. She thought that concerns about this particular memo dealt with its timing along with all of the factors already mentioned. Clemens noted that there is a diversity of opinions here at UNC. Community members do not always agree with one another. He wanted it known that we know how to interact with one another and with the public in a civil way around disagreement. He saw the university as a model in managing disagreement in our history. He hoped that each listener will feel free to politely speak their mind and defend their points of view with strong arguments, in a way that attracts people to this process of discernment. Clemens thought that this could be an effective counterbalance to the current trend of engaging in personal attacks or attacks on someone’s community. He did not want anyone to perceive the memo to indicate that they would have their speech suppressed.
Vice Chancellor for Human Resources, Equal Opportunity, and Compliance Becci Menghini said that while the memo may have been received poorly, it was not timed to have a chilling effect. She noted that these memos are not intended to squelch people’s personal speech for all of the reasons discussed earlier. She thought it wise also to consult University Counsel to weigh in on this matter, once again. She was happy to swing back to discuss the point with Vice Chancellor of Finance & Operations Nate Knuffman as well.
Stacy Keast asked if the university has anyone in place to plan how to navigate potential issues associated with a possible negative decision in the affirmative action Supreme Court case. Clemens said that the leadership team of the University has discussed possible models for different scenarios with admissions personnel. He said that no one’s values will change on campus as a result of anything that happens in a court case. He said that the university has always found ways to express its collective values and try to turn them into desired outcomes.
The Chair thanked Clemens for his remarks, noting that he had to attend a meeting at 10:30 a.m. Clemens thanked the Chair and the Forum for their hard work on behalf of the University. He was grateful for the Forum’s work and engagement in these questions.
The Chair welcomed Becci Menghini to present the Forum’s customary Human Resources update. Menghini hoped that all had a chance to enjoy the barbeque lunch at the Employee Appreciation event in October. OHR just wrapped up an annual enrollment of 95.6% of the University’s 12,000 employees who completed their relevant paperwork on time. For those who did not complete their annual enrollment, this failure will prove an expensive mistake as the state is adamant that those who did not enroll on time must bear the cost for not making a tobacco attestation. She said that UNC OHR had requested exceptions for these employees, but the state has been very clear in its refusals.
Menghini recalled that this year, the state issued three elements of its legislative proposal related to state employees. The first of these established a standard three and a half percent salary increase. The second of these established a labor market adjustment reserve. This allocation to agencies and campus of about one percent of the state personnel budget is to be reallocated out to no more than twenty-five percent of employees, to address labor market issues.
OHR is beginning this process and will complete the task by December. OHR will initially manage the process centrally by studying job classifications and where people fall in the labor market and finding where adjustments could occur. This work will determine how much departments can raise salaries based on the requirements of the reserve. There are many requirements and rules associated with this process which makes the reserve a bit less useful than was otherwise hoped.
Menghini described a requirement facing an employee on partial funding that whatever increase granted must have the same percentage of funding from each source, be it from the state or another private source. Menghini described Staff Assembly discussions of labor market constraints for increasing salaries for state employees. She acknowledged that current market data is old and presents an ongoing challenge. Nonetheless, OHR will use every penny it can to reinvest the labor market reserve (LMR) and guidance to HR officers and leaders will come out soon. Adjustments should be realized in the December payroll.
The third part of the legislative proposal included performance-based increases for EHRA employees. SHRA employees were not included in this aspect of the proposal. Menghini said that these increases are not base adjustments and are intended to be bonuses only. These are unfunded adjustments that units will have to absorb if they intend to provide these increases to their employees. Performance measures are based on scores from the previous year from the performance review process. Funds for these increases must be internal and cannot be spent in advance under the expectation of a larger budget next year.
Menghini was pleased to announce that the university has successfully advocated for retention and sign-on bonuses for SHRA and EHRA employees. Not surprisingly, there are parameters around the SHRA branch of this legislation. These measures were approved through the Office of State Human Resources and did not require any additional governance approval. EHRA bonuses will be modeled entirely after the SHRA structure in order to create and keep parity between positions.
These plans will be presented to the Board of Trustees for approval at its next meeting. OHR hopes to create an option for sign-on and retention bonuses for SHRA and EHRA employees using roughly the same guidance, come the New Year.
Menghini noted a broad support among university leadership in South Building and across campus for doing more for the housekeepers. However, she said that there is no authority to provide across-the-board salary increases at this time. Salary ranges for these positions have not been adjusted for a number of years because the UNC System Office ruled that the UNC System would remain in the current banding system until the state had adequately prepared and worked out the kinks in its separate career banding system.
The state thus agreed to have two separate parallel systems. The state’s career banding system had a very rocky roll out with continuing questions as to whether the problems have all been resolved. However, the advantage of the state system is that over the years, UNC System schools have been removed from a series of general salary increases, which are provided only to state system employees. Menghini recalled that there was no intention to adjust salary bands on the university side as the plan has been to wait until the university side joined the state system.
This view seemed fine initially but has become a very big problem as the duration of the two systems has extended and extended. The university has articulated this problem to the UNC System Office through the Chancellor’s office, through OHR, and individually from various university leaders including the UNC System Staff Assembly. The UNC System Office has noted the need to adjust these ranges but have made only small changes over time, a process which has proven very problematic in regards to recruiting and retaining employees.
This dual system created additional challenges in 2018 when the state raised the minimum salary for full-time employees to $31,200/year. This increase was enacted separately from the range agreements, leading housekeepers to not see an initial large bump in their paychecks. Eventually, when line housekeepers received their increase, and their salaries rose right alongside crew leaders, creating difficult compression issues. Menghini recalled James Holman raising these concerns in various Forum meetings with administrators.
The problem was that the university could not deal with the compression issue because the state did not pass a budget for several years. Following this lack of action, the pandemic led to a similar freeze on expenditures. OHR could only provide range adjustments as soon as it has the authority to do so through changes that opened up earlier this year. Finally, the university was able to enact adjustments for crew leaders.
Understandably, housekeepers then began to ask why crew leaders were receiving raises while they did not, even though these raises were postponed from years ago. Housekeepers pointed out that they had to work in person during the pandemic and could not work remotely. They feel entitled to salary increases and they are absolutely right in this feeling, Menghini said.
However, these increases were not enacted to recognize work during the pandemic, or for any of a host of other issues. These adjustments for crew leaders were made entirely to address compression that had been based on the state’s legal requirements.
Now, the university has a salary range for housekeepers in which all earn at the top of their range. The university has no authority to move these employees beyond the top of their range. Until the state grants the university the authority to adjust these ranges, the university cannot do so.
The university is earmarking resources and planning for the eventuality of a policy change. University leaders are advocating for this change but do not have an answer yet. Menghini assured the Forum that university leaders share concerns about the housekeepers’ situation. She also said that this situation is not unique to housekeepers, as it takes place across departments.
Menghini wanted to address housekeepers’ concerns immediately, but she did not want to address those concerns on one day, then need to circle back to deal with other positions later. She prefers a comprehensive approach. Menghini said that she discusses this situation with UNC Vice President for Human Resources Darryl Bass almost daily to figure out a means to this change. Short-term and long-term issues must all remain in mind when working on these problems.
Menghini said that she wanted to provide the Forum context for discussion of these matters and stated again that the need for improvements is large and immediate. She could not answer questions about parking that housekeepers have also raised, as these questions are out of her purview.
Menghini recalled that Governor Roy Cooper’s announcement yesterday regarding the new executive task force on the status of higher education governance. She did not have any insight beyond that published by Margaret Spellings and Tom Ross who will chair this effort to study governance and methods of appointments to the Boards of Governors and Boards of Trustees of UNC System campuses.
Keith Hines confirmed that market rate is based on a statewide aggregate and not the location in the market of the particular institution or agency. He noted the vast differences between Elizabeth City and Chapel Hill as economic markets, for example. Menghini said that this was correct, as market rates are based on statewide aggregates that are informed by national data. She noted the large number of UNC-Chapel Hill employees who earn over one hundred percent of their market rate, more than most every other UNC System campus. These ranges are not based on demographics for SHRA or EHRA employees.
Menghini has asked about the possibility of obtaining authority to set up range increases based on location but had been denied by the UNC System Office and the Office of State Human Resources.
Matthew Teal thanked Menghini for the work of her office on these questions. He raised the question of Forum Resolution 22-02, regarding retention, morale, and resource problems in Housekeeping. He noted that pay was but one component of what the Chancellor was called to do by the resolution, and he appreciated efforts made in this area.
Another part of the resolution called upon the Chancellor to direct Facilities, Finance & Operations, and the Office of Human Resources to develop and implement a new plan by July 2022 to recruit, hire, and retain permanent employees. The resolution called on the Chancellor to facilitate small group meetings with frontline housekeeping staff and zone managers in a safe, welcoming, and non-intimidating environment. He noted that pay is one small part of why people leave employment here at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Teal concluded that a larger cultural problem in Housekeeping and Facilities exists and is embodied in its leadership and how it treats these employees. He noted gender and language dynamics accompanying these issues that go well beyond salary. Thus, he asked if Menghini could provide an update on implementation of the other parts of Resolution 22-02 that do not have to do with pay and that would help facilitate a positive working environment for housekeepers.
Menghini granted that Teal’s question was a fair one. She clarified that she spoke on behalf of OHR and not on behalf of housekeepers, as these employees do not report to her. She thought that this question should also be directed to Nate Knuffman and his team. Still, she answered from what she knew.
To begin, Menghini said that if anyone believes that they are experiencing a hostile work environment, they should contact either their human resources officer or the Equal Opportunity and Compliance office. She encouraged employees to contact the Ombuds office also. She did not want anyone to feel that they are in a hostile work environment.
Menghini said that the University is working with an outside firm to study whether its structure is what it should look like to manage Housekeeping and Facilities more generally. The firm will help answer questions like is the university managing space allocation correctly? Are housekeepers being recruited the correct way? Should there be a different structure for where they report? How does the university provide day to day guidance? This group will come in for a meeting later in the month. None of these questions will be addressed by a preconceived notion about what the structure should be. Menghini added that her own team and Employee and Management Relations is spending more time with Facilities personnel to determine what might be useful in terms of training and development.
On a broader campus perspective, Menghini announced a proposal to establish a mentorship program for staff that would go to the Carolina Next Strategic Plan advisory committee for approval. This proposal would be inclusive of all types of employees, not just housekeepers.
Menghini hoped to bring forward examples of what other units that work to foster their culture do. She hoped to partner with the Forum and other employee groups to bring these examples to light. Teal noted that he had submitted this question in the previous Vice Chancellors’ Representatives’ meeting but that it had not been discussed due to time constraints. He looked forward to reading the written reply to this question.
James Holman asked about a rumor he had heard that the UNC System Office will move away from the new salary process because consulting fees accompanying the process will be too high. Instead, rumor is that the UNC System will stick with the current career banding system. Menghini again said that she did not know enough yet about the UNC System Office’s conversations with the Office of State Human Resources (OSHR) on this question. She hoped that any move from the current salary structure to the state system would offer better and clearer salary bands to prevent disappointment among employees. She did not know where the authority to make this move will be granted from. Negotiations are ongoing.
The Chair asked how likely it would be that the university would receive permission to do an across-the-board increase for lower paid employees to raise them to a minimum of twenty dollars an hour. She asked if there is a possibility that when market rates are reevaluated of setting this new minimum. Menghini was uncertain where the authority to make this change would occur, as OSHR governs everything to do with SHRA employees.
If the UNC System Office chooses to pull out of its current salary system, would the university be able to structure compensation as it does for EHRA employees? In this case, the university could set its own ranges, but the state would still affirm these choices. Governance involves grievance process and other matters besides pay. Will the university gain full authority to enact changes? With full authority, the university has a field of opportunity for reform. With only range setting for salaries, the situation will remain the same, Menghini thought.
Elizabeth Dubose thanked Menghini and her team for all their patience and advocacy. She noted difficulties in billing private industry properly for staff salaries as salary ranges are based on old data. Menghini said that this question involves other UNC System research universities such as NC State and NC A&T University. She said that the chancellors of these institutions have spoken on this difficulty in capitalizing on maximum resources available because of the way these rules apply, ways that do not affect state agencies like the DOT or Health and Human Services. She said that her office continues to advocate for change in this area. Dubose noted the disproportionate impact upon smaller departments relying on private support for staff salaries.
Matthew Teal emphasized the language barrier among some frontline housekeepers. He recalled the Forum’s wish that all of the great work from OHR is communicated and translated and shared with these employees, with opportunities to provide input and feedback. Menghini said that OHR Employee and Management Relations has spent time directly with these employees, particularly those who speak Karen. She noted a preference to have younger staff members who speak both English and Karen do this direct translation.
Senior employees without strong English skills often prefer to hear directly from members of their own community rather than from OHR officials. Thus, OHR has worked with Facilities officials to coordinate this effort to ensure this process occurs. Menghini said that not all crews want the same approach, and the University must offer a series of options.
James Holman thanked the University for restarting the English classes for these employees. He hoped that this program would continue through future budgetary trials.
The Chair thanked Menghini for her extensive remarks. She asked that Senior Work/Life Manager Jessica Pyjas allow the Forum to send out her update via email as the meeting was behind time. The Chair then noted her participation in the Tar Heel Bus Tour. She appreciated the chance to build camaraderie with the faculty and staff on her bus during their travels west. She hoped to be invited again, as the experience had been fantastic. The Chair then took her leave to attend another meeting. The Chair asked Forum Vice Chair Keith Hines to conduct the remainder of the day’s agenda.
Hines led the Forum in a wrap-up discussion of the 30th anniversary event and cookie giveaway on University Day. Tiffany Carver said that speeches by all, particularly founding members, led to an overall great experience. Arlene Medder noted the cookie giveaway was very popular with staff and students who passed by the Old Well that afternoon.
Hines praised the Chair’s remarks at University Day. He asked Matt Banks to supply a link to delegates with these remarks on YouTube. Shayna Hill noted that this year was the third in which the Rebecca Clark Award was presented. The Chair actually presented the award herself at the event. Hill recounted the history of Rebecca Clark at the University.
Shane Brogan thanked the Communications and Public Relations committee members who helped with the scavenger hunt during the Employee Appreciation Event October 21st. He said that the hunt had been a great success. The committee soon will begin drawing prizes and getting back to winners.
Hines asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the September meeting. Arlene Medder made this motion, seconded by Stacy Keast. The motion was approved by acclamation.
Hines asked if any committee reports needed to be pulled from the consent agenda. Tracy Wetherby Williams wanted to speak on the tuition and fees approval process but asked to defer to another time. A motion was made and seconded to approve the consent agenda and was approved by acclamation.
As there was no new business for discussion, Hines took a moment to note the Vice Chancellors’ representatives’ meeting on Thursday, December 8th. The meeting adjourned by motion of Tracy Wetherby Williams, seconded by Rebecca Howell at 11:27 a.m.
Matt Banks, Recording Secretary