July 10, 2014 Employee Forum Vice Chancellor/Provost Meeting
Attending: Nancy Beach, Matt Brody, Gena Carter, Ronald Campbell, Andy Eaker, Matt Fajack, James Holman, Karen Jenkins-Cheek, Arlene Medder, Samara Reynolds, Charles Streeter, Anna Wu
Matt Brody welcomed attendees and led the room in a round of introductions. He noted that Ombuds officer Wayne Blair had mentioned that elder care has placed employees under a great deal of stress. He added that dependent care could be added to that assessment. He said that these challenges could place stress on the individual and also potentially impact one’s job, attendance, and ability to perform. He encouraged employees to consult with supervisors and the Office of Human Resources and to use the option of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave if necessary. He noted that the University has recently changed Employee Assistance Program providers to ComPsych, which has a variety of resources to help with child or dependent care resources or to connect employees with a counselor to help them cope individually. Brody noted that the Institute on Aging has many resources for those seeking to deal with elder care concerns. He said that many questions arise regarding financial issues. The State Health Insurance Assistance Program can provide an unbiased resource on these questions. There is also the Helping Heels Provider list which can provide support for daily tasks related to employees who need a break from their elder care duties. Ashley Nicklis and the Benefits Office will have more information. Interested employees can call the Benefits Office at 919-962-3071.
Charles Streeter noted that current employees looking to retire will likely have questions about these concerns after they separate from the University. Gena Carter said that employees can consult with ComPsych up to six months after separation. Felicia Washington asked if the University has a long term benefits selection for its employees.
Anna Wu said that she had not received the day’s agenda in advance, and so was unprepared to speak on the issue of the University’s use of herbicides and pesticides. Arlene Medder said that she was interested in the possibility of the University choosing greener options for these needs. Wu said that Grounds is not the only department on campus that uses these chemicals. She said that Building Services uses an integrated pest management system and works closely with Environment and Health Services (EHS) to insure worker and environmental safety. Andy Eaker noted the recent controversy with regard to bee colonies being depleted by certain pesticides and herbicides. Wu will provide a report at the next meeting.
Matt Brody distributed a flyer detailing SPA layoffs and EPA end-of-appointments due to lack of funding. In FY13-14, there were 68 SPA layoffs and 16 EPA non-faculty end-of-appointments. These figures are down from 95 and 12 separations, respectively, in FY12-13. Brody said that this year’s budget is in flux, but is looking somewhat better than in previous years. He said that July and August could see some layoffs due to end of the fiscal year considerations. He also noted that EPA cuts have come from the difficulty of obtaining grant renewals. Ronald Campbell asked about a breakdown of layoffs by department. It was noted that the University has not broken down this data by departments for publication on a University website. He noted that grant losses affect the health affairs side of the University more while State dollar cuts affect academic and administrative units more. Samara Reynolds asked about the surge of layoffs in August and December. Brody noted that August is the first month in which managers must handle budgetary challenges in the new fiscal year. Charles Streeter asked if it is easier for managers to lay off EPA non-faculty employees than SPA employees. Brody thought that this comparison is “apples and oranges” given the different tasks that these groups of employees undertake. Managers generally select layoff positions based on the basic services of the department and the relation of the position to those services. He noted many other criteria for layoff choices, mainly dealing with operational need. Managers generally do not pick a position for layoff because one is procedurally easier to layoff than another.
James Holman asked about departments bringing in temporary employees to do the work of permanent employees who have been laid off. Matt Brody said that this practice comes down to the types of funding available to departments. The University has a variety of non-recurring funds available for different purposes. Permanent positions must be supported by permanent, recurring funds. Brody said that if a department experiences cuts in permanent funding, it can devote temporary funding to hiring temporaries for this work. The Office of Human Resources monitors the establishment of permanent positions in the wake of layoffs. Holman asked about hiring laid off employees as the first priority when departments can fill these positions again. Brody said that these rules have changed recently by the State with regard to layoff priority, so as to to be less advantageous to laid-off employees in certain situations. He offered to invite Noreen Montgomery of Human Resources to speak on these complicated rules, in order to present the most accurate answer. Brody emphasized that the University does not make these decisions, rather than these policy dictates come from the Office of State Human Resources and the Legislature.
Andy Eaker asked whether these Vice Chancellor/Provost meetings are subject to the open meetings law. The general consensus was that they are. He then asked if these meetings can go into closed session, and was told that they do not typically do so. Eaker said that he knew temporary employees who have worked up to seven years in the same role. James Holman noted that temporary employees have been denied permanent positions for the work that they do now. Matt Brody said that on the SPA side, long-term temporary employees must take a 31-day break every twelve months. He said that every department experiences a different situation. Some departments have only temporary funding available for this work. Some departments cannot commit to permanent funding for a particular area of work in the next fiscal year. Brody said that he could not know or speculate about the individual circumstances surrounding hiring for a particular position. If an employee feels that they’ve not been treated fairly, they should contact Employee Relations or the Ombuds office to discuss the question further.
Matt Brody said that the Affordable Care Act will place financial pressures on the University as all employees working 30 hours or more must get insurance from the University starting in January, 2015. James Holman asked if the University will reduce temporary employees’ hours to avoid this mandate. Brody said that this practice could likely become a national trend. He said it was not good to cut hours without a strategic plan. Departments must figure out how to pay for these employees’ insurance costs. Some departments will likely not have the budget for this purpose.
Gena Carter reported that the University has made strides in the area of reducing long-term temporary employment limbo. She said that this complaint was likely true several years ago, but Human Resources has worked to follow rules to move temporary employees into permanent positions as much as possible. Anna Wu said that her area has not discussed options to reduce costs associated with the Affordable Care Act.
Andy Eaker raised a question about University siloing of responsibilities and this practice’s relation to operations. He asked about the potential to improve collaboration among departments. Matt Brody said that he would need to prepare a fuller response to this question. Eaker asked about whether the University has information about temporary retention. Gena Carter thought that this information was likely unavailable.
Respectfully submitted, Matt Banks, Recording Secretary