April 26, 2022 Vice Chancellors’ Representatives’ Meeting
Attending: Linc Butler, Jaci Field, Stephanie Forman, Leah Hefner, Keith Hines, Kira Jones, Joe Jordan, Nate Knuffman, Arlene Medder, Becci Menghini, Katie Musgrove, Laura Pratt, Janet Steele, Janice Singletary, Matthew Teal, Tracey Wiley, Tracey Wetherby Williams
Katie Musgrove called the meeting to order at 10 a.m. She thanked attendees for their presence given the rescheduled meeting. Musgrove raised James Stamey’s question asking how using Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA leave) can affect retirement or when an individual has no time accrued and must apply for shared leave. Linc Butler recalled his conversation with Senior Director of Benefits & Leave Administration Joe Williams regarding Stamey’s question. Butler said that all UNC employees have the possible benefit of twelve weeks of FMLA leave. If an employee has no vacation leave, sick leave, or bonus leave or even voluntary shared leave during their FMLA leave, they will not receive pay for this time.
Additionally, this FMLA leave time will not count towards State retirement if the employee does not receive any kind of pay for any period of a month. If an employee receives pay in a month, they accordingly receive retirement service credit for that month also. This rule applies no matter where the pay originates, whether it is sick leave, voluntary shared leave, vacation leave, or other forms of leave. Musgrove thanked Butler and Williams for their response to this question.
Musgrove shared a different question from James Holman, asking why jobs are not being posted for second and third shift positions in Housekeeping. Holman said that there is no concern for areas with multiple vacancies, and staff cannot be moved around because all areas are short-staffed.
Nate Knuffman offered to address this question by updating the group on recruiting strategies in these different shifts and where positions are currently. Knuffman said that as of the end of last week Housekeeping had fifteen positions listed, of which eleven of those were for second shift positions, a slight turn in emphasis towards this shift. Knuffman said that conversations with assistant directors and managers are ongoing about how the University will fill these vacancies. Generally, the University attempts to prioritize the first-shift positions to obtain a better sense of the total volume of vacancies to be filled in the other two shifts.
Musgrove shared another question from Holman asking how Facilities Services is advertising open positions in critical areas. Knuffman said that the University is being as aggressive as possible to inform people about permanent and temporary vacancies. Vacancies are posted on the UNC website, the Community College Consortium job board, and the Employment Security Commission job link site, among other locations. Knuffman had spoken with Holman over the weekend about hitting local job fairs and working to let people know of the need for help and awareness of these opportunities. Musgrove added that being creative in recruitment will be important in coming months.
Matthew Teal asked if UNC-Chapel Hill plans to boost its minimum salary given the University pays temporary employees $10.60/hour. If not, Teal asked about the University’s plan to remain competitive amid the ongoing tight labor market when other employers are raising wages. He noted that Amazon, Costco, and Walmart all start new employees at $15/hour or more.
Musgrove thought that Teal’s question is related to some postings for Housekeeping positions offering temporary employee hires $10.61/hour. Nate Knuffman said that the University must evaluate whether its pay per hour is competitive on the market in recruitment. He said that job markets are moving quickly. He said that all companies cited are real market forces against which the University must compete.
Linc Butler recalled that a few years ago the State raised its rate to $15/hour for permanent positions. He noted the discussion about temporary employees, leading to departments having the option to adjust their hourly rates to this level assuming funding was available. However, there was not sufficient funding to do an across the board raise for every temporary employee. He said that while some units have adjusted over time, others still have a good number of temporary employees below $15/hour.
Matthew Teal appreciated these comments and said that the impetus for these questions arose from discussions within the Personnel Issues committee. He granted the importance of historical considerations but said that the current market is moving so quickly that salary data from even two years ago is no longer relevant for getting applicants for positions. He noted similar problems with retention.
Jaci Field said that the University appears to be trying to fix permanent issues with temporary employees, which seems to exacerbate retention issues. She asked if the University might suspend hiring temporary positions until permanent positions are filled. Also, she asked how many applicants for these positions are being interviewed and are not being hired. She asked why it seems anecdotally that the University has more applicants than it is hiring for positions. She was uncertain why the University is not hiring these people.
Butler said that the first suggestion to suspend temporary hiring would be a mistake as some of these positions are designed with permanent placement in mind. He noted differences between recurring and non-recurring available dollars which influence these choices. With the redesign of the hiring process, which was done a few years ago, these actions now move a little more quickly than they did previously. Butler added that applicant pools across the board have shrunken, leading to a decrease in applicants for positions from 60-80 people to approximately 15 people per position now. This is a System-wide problem, as the job market has led people to being more selective about jobs applied for.
Butler stated that the University’s process is set up that if applicants are in the pool for a position, they should all receive consideration for hiring. He said that people are not applying for positions for which they are minimally qualified for but lack direct experience related to the job in question. He said that all applicants should receive fair consideration under the process in place now.
Butler noted that when people are not selected for positions the hiring department must enter a non-selection reason for this decision. Thus, each hiring manager must actively document why a person did not receive advancement in the process or, once they interviewed, an offer to work. Butler said that hiring involves more than picking one or two people out of the pool to interview.
Jaci Field asked how many vacancies currently exist in Housekeeping. Katie Musgrove said that as of December 2021, there are between 50 and 70 vacancies in this department. Field had a difficult time reconciling how hiring temporary employees for this huge number of permanent vacancies provides more benefit than making permanent hires. She asked what competencies an applicant would not have for the University not to hire them for a Housekeeping position.
Janet Steele noted how her department handles hiring temporary versus permanent positions. Steele said that most times it is easier to get a temporary hire started faster than to go through the permanent process. She said that her department currently starts temporary employees within two weeks of interviewing them, which allows managers to see if the employee is a good fit. If so, the temporary employee is encouraged to start applying for permanent roles.
Steele said that for some reason the pools for temporary and permanent hires are different. She added that her department would “go down” if it could not hire temporary employees. She said that when needing five hires, her department will typically post for five permanent positions but will try to get five temporary positions when available. Again, this course is taken to get people into positions as quickly and effectively as possible. She asked if there is something the University or State could do to streamline the permanent hiring process to address this emergent situation.
Field asked about creating efficiencies within the permanent hiring process. Steele said that the permanent process requires posting a position for a certain number of days. The process must attract a certain number of applicants, and the process requires interviews of a certain number of these applicants. Steele said that the temporary process is a little more flexible, not requiring reposting in certain situations such as lower numbers of applicants or interviews.
Steele reported that temporary positions are hired in her area permanently at about the same pace as permanent positions, in part because of the required background check. She surmised that for some reason temporaries can receive their background checks in around three days while permanent hires will take up to two weeks to be processed by OHR.
Becci Menghini added that OHR and the University wants to hire housekeepers as badly as Forum delegates do. She added that Housekeeping is not the worst area for this problem, noting struggles in clinical research functions that have precluded clinical trials due to a lack of personnel.
Menghini said that this problem affects the entire institution. She said that of fifteen open Housekeeping positions, some garnered only one, two, or three applications. (The largest pool was fourteen applicants.) She said that Housekeeping has indicated that it can carry out only fifteen position searches at a time, because to take any more people away from their duties to run these search committees reduces effectiveness. This is a reason why Housekeeping has posted a balance of temporary and permanent positions. OHR has met with Housekeeping leadership to help. However, with only two to three applicants for certain positions, there becomes a point at which a current temporary hire becomes preferable to hire permanently. The temporary hire may decide their temporary work is preferable as well, or that person may have applications in at 30 other organizations while they wait for a better offer.
Menghini said that the question as to why the University is hiring temporary employees assumes that all hires want a permanent position, which may not be true. She said that some people manage the temporary job circuit to find what they want to do, perhaps as short-term work enabling them to manage other projects. OHR has heard of construction temporary employees who work with the University for short periods of time then return to larger construction jobs once these become available.
In sum, Menghini assured listeners that the University wants people in these roles as much as anyone. There is no interest in filling all these roles with temporary employees but right now the temporary process and the permanent process are two tools available to build the current workforce. Menghini granted the point about whether the University can afford to pay some of these people more was totally fair and should be considered. She did not think that the question was answered simply without consideration of data. As of now, open applications are not showing large returns of applicants.
Kira Jones recalled conversations with managers who said that they have lost several candidates because of a slowdown in the background check process. She asked if this reason might contribute to the slowdown. Linc Butler said that once the State budget was approved in December the hiring floodgates have opened, with everyone pushing forward to complete previous on-hold projects. Butler said that he would research the updated figures on current turnaround of background checks as these were not yet readily available. Jones appreciated whatever help Butler could provide in this area.
Menghini added that the campus is seeing more searches fail because there are not enough qualified applicants applying for jobs. The University is seeing more searches for smaller pools. She noted that UNC System Vice President Matt Brody had made a presentation on this topic to the UNC Board of Governors as part of discussion of the “Great Resignation.” The University is not seeing the pools of applicants that it once saw and is not seen as an “employer of choice” in the way that it once was historically. Menghini noted that the Board did express concern and eagerness to address this question, much as the Board of Trustees did upon her similar recent presentation to that group.
Menghini said that the challenge is finding enough tools to be able to respond to these questions accordingly. The University does not have the ability to change its benefits program to attract candidates, for example. Menghini noted that an SHRA task force is looking at items from incentive pay to one-time bonuses to recruitment or retention payments as options. However, all these options must go through the Office of State Human Resources (OSHR) and then possibly through the State Human Resources Commission as well. Conversations are also happening at the UNC System Office.
Menghini was at least encouraged that the awareness of the problem and its inherent challenges is something decisionmakers are acutely aware of now. She saw the challenge as whether the campus can obtain enough tools to respond accordingly. She added that another piece of this problem is what the University is doing to take care of people who are already here, particularly to support people taking on additional duties. How can UNC-Chapel Hill avoid situations in which one person is hired, then another employee burns out quickly, leaving the department to make multiple expensive and time-consuming hires?
Tracy Wetherby Williams thanked all for their insights and comments in response to Teal’s, Fields’, and Jones’ questions. She asked what grassroots recruitment hiring initiatives the University could pursue, perhaps partnering with the Diversity and Inclusion office to find candidates. She hoped the University would make room for similar creative ideas for recruitment and retention. Williams noted problems with employees not being able to afford to live in Chapel Hill or Orange County. She asked what progress could be made in this area.
Menghini recalled that the Chancellor is part of a task force with the Town of Chapel Hill to discuss affordable housing options and ways to partner to create additional affordable housing. However, while this solution is needed, it is likely not going to be sufficient to solve the problems facing the campus now.
Menghini added that the University has worked with the Diversity and Inclusion office in the past. She thought it a good idea to encourage units to think differently about where they might post open positions.
Matthew Teal asked if the UNC System has published a concrete roadmap describing when and how the System will update pay bands or the pay system. He noted that employees have received vague assurances that updates will be arriving many times in past years. He thought that the System’s failure to provide meaningful information and firm timelines in this area is a disgraceful practice, as UNC-Chapel Hill employees need help now.
Becci Menghini replied that there is no firm timeline for these announcements. She thought that the System isn’t doing something disgraceful when the System must act upon the State’s timeline for movement. She said that the State has been tied up with some of their own issues. She understood that people want to know more and said that OHR shares this desire. However, there is not more to know yet. In some ways, Menghini said, the University is better off waiting for the State, as the State has had a lot of challenges moving to this new, perhaps flawed, system. She preferred that the State take the time to clean up problems with the system before admitting the University, instead of rushing to meet a timeline that forces the University into a clunky fit that needs immediate curing.
Menghini completely understood that people want a timeline on this issue and said that the University will do everything it can with the system in place now, until it receives State guidance. Katie Musgrove asked how the campus can encourage decisionmakers to update the pay bands in the current system. She said that the University cannot just do nothing in the interim.
Menghini said that being able to push OSHR to support the existing structure up and until the University moves into the new one is probably the key. As of now, the UNC System does not have the authority to extend salary ranges despite having asked OSHR to do so on numerous occasions.
The key is that OSHR is the governing body that has made the decision on this issue, not the System Office, nor UNC-Chapel Hill. Menghini had done her best to communicate the urgency on this question to OSHR, to the point of noting that some of this problem is of our own making and that we collectively have the tools to fix it if we begin to address the question. She thus was happy to work with the Forum and others to articulate that the University would like to see the existing structure be adequately supported up until the transfer to the new system.
Katie Musgrove recalled that a UNC System Staff Assembly Resolution is being drafted asking for an update of current pay bands. She hoped that the Forum and other campus groups would echo these sentiments in their discussions. Stephanie Forman noted that the Forum’s Personnel Issues committee had asked to meet with Menghini and Butler on a resolution that mirrors this conversation. She noted that a Forum resolution goes to the Chancellor asking for his or her support and advocacy. She asked how employees as individuals and taxpayers could pressure the appropriate office to support the current pay structure.
Menghini said that asking the Chancellor to articulate the Forum’s concerns in discussions with the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors is generally appropriate. However, she wondered if OSHR would react as desired to a resolution from the UNC-Chapel Hill Employee Forum. She said that she might have to research the best mechanism to demonstrate this need. She thought that the UNC System Staff Assembly effort would create a layered approach to the question.
Nate Knuffman said that a resolution from the UNC System Staff Assembly would reflect the entire UNC System, would be more persuasive, and thus would require some care. He hoped that working through System Office channels would allow discussion with colleagues with direct relationships with regulatory bodies like OSHR or the State Budget Office. He thought that putting work in ahead of time to put these issues in context could be very helpful.
Stephanie Forman asked how progress on the pay bands would be coordinated with annual salary increases. Linc Butler said that much depends on if, as in past years, a legislative increase provided payments on market rates that were adjusted by the same percentage. He said that for the first time, off-cycle increases, either as market or equity or competency assessment adjustments, were made available to SHRA employees as has been traditionally done for EHRA employees. Having these updated before another ARP process would be ideal as ranges would be in place and market rates determined before ARP decisions are made. Musgrove asked if the next time this would occur would be July 2023 at the earliest, depending on the status of the next budget. Butler agreed, if the short session does not address the question earlier.
Becci Menghini said that OHR is asking for changes to the salary ranges as well as other marginal improvements. If more resources are available, the University can work to find ways to help even if the short-term solution is simply a one-time bonus to assist employees. She was encouraged by early legislative interest but did not know whether this would eventually yield new benefits.
Matthew Teal thanked Menghini and her office for all their advocacy work on this question. He asked what percentage of permanent employees who make $40,000 or less annually received a raise via the recent discretionary base pay adjustment process. Linc Butler said that he had made a request for this data that is not yet available.
Teal asked given other peer institutions’ divestment from Russia or Russian assets in the wake of the recent invasion of Ukraine, does UNC-Chapel Hill have any plan to divest like other institutions? Nate Knuffman said that divestment as a topic has come up several times recently, often in the context of energy investments. He said that the Capital Investment Fund Board discussed this item at their most recent meeting, with concern raised as to what social issues might follow and how to manage these other issues. The question returned to the overarching mission of that Board to provide resources to serve the University in perpetuity in terms of investment returns. Knuffman noted that less than 2% of assets are exposed to Russian investment. He noted more attention has gone to the Fund’s exposure with Chinese assets. The Board is actively considering these questions as to the right balance of investments.
Stephanie Forman raised a follow-up question on the previous topic asking how the Fund would determine when to divest from these assets, and would the Fund follow a group that came up with mutually agreed guidelines or principles. Knuffman said that the Chapel Hill Investment Fund Board would look at allocation and investment decisions for the endowment, with the most recent focus on sustainability and cleaner energy. The Board has worked with Chief Sustainability Officer Mike Piehler to think through these questions in the context of movements within higher education. He said that the University is trying to be very thoughtful about how to tackle this question.
Matthew Teal then asked if the University has partnered with the Town on its Earth Day initiative and if not, what systemic institutional action or actions regarding sustainability is the University taking, particularly given ongoing climate strikes on campus. Knuffman said that Mike Piehler, the University’s Chief Sustainability Officer, has been spearheading this effort to make progress and demonstrate commitment. Knuffman recalled that the University had accelerated its net zero emissions goal from 2050 to 2040. He said that the climate action plan being developed offers many such opportunities. He works closely with Piehler on the execution side, such as with the energy plan for maintaining facilities. He encouraged the Forum to meet directly with Piehler to discuss this question further.
Teal asked if Sustainability Carolina’s position on the organizational chart for the University is commensurate with its role. Knuffman said that there has been an effort within the Institute for the Environment to get some independence on options available in partnership with the execution and operational side of campus. On energy services, it was difficult to manage both aspirational goals at the same time the campus carries out operational responsibilities. The idea was to try to restructure and reorganize some of that work. He thought that from the Finance and Operations side, Piehler was a great partner who has valued achieving things within the realm of the possible. Knuffman thought that the Institute will offer an independent assessment leveraging a lot of expertise on this campus.
Katie Musgrove raised a question from an anonymous employee concerning the recent harassment/discrimination training email that went out to campus. Menghini said that the University has many different federal obligations to provide different kinds of training as a federal contractor. There is an annual training required of all employees, and a separate training required also of responsible employees related to discrimination, harassment, and Clery issues. This latter training may change depending on one’s duties and role.
Menghini said that the OHR office is working to perfect the wording of these different training notifications. She noted the different imperatives to offer comprehensive training that is not too lengthy. She also noted the conversion to Cornerstone software that will occur soon. Musgrove appreciated this answer and still noted the difficulty of meeting all these obligations as the end of the year approaches. She hoped that the University would be strategic in rolling these trainings out during relatively stress-free times. Menghini worried that OHR would never get this balance exactly right but would keep trying and asking for feedback.
Musgrove thanked Menghini and the group for responding to delegates’ and employees’ questions with thoughtfulness.
Respectfully submitted, Matt Banks, Recording Secretary