Minutes for September 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Members present: Ben Bond, Patrick Buckner, Tony Bumpass, Mary Campbell, Nellie Cano, James Cooper, Jackie Dana, Sally Dickson, Lara Eakins, Jeff Ellinger, Suzanne Ewing, Sonny Flores, Robert Giles, Mickey Gonzales, Joe Gregory, Janet Griffith, Martha Harrison, Janice Hejl, Gloria Holder, Kathryn Kenefick, Charles King, Dianne Kline, Janet Larsen, Sarah Lind, David Macha, Jennifer McClain, Jane Moore, Jimmy Moore, Louise Nelson, Amy Olson, Linda Overton, Lori Peterson, Cynthia Podolnick, Cindy Posey, Tina Radke, Cheryl Rae, Janet Reed, Tracy Saenger, Jenny Smith, Anne Steele, Heather Vacek, Marie Warden, Elena Watts, Robert Weisse, Blake Willms, Collen Yarbrough, Jeffery Yeomans
Members Absent with Notification: P. Abusali, Lawrence Cook, Phillip Hebert, Robert Hernandez, Keith Hill, Sarah Kitten, David Kruse, Jo Ann Richmond, Ben Rodriguez, Janell Ross, Candace Shye, Robert Walker, Bobby Wawak, Brandy Whitten, Sunni Zuniga
Members Absent: Robert Meyer, Stephanie Peco, Rachel Sidopulos, Barbara Welch,
With a quorum present, Chair Ben Bond called the meeting to order at 2:00pm. Mr. Bond extends a warm welcome to all Staff Council representatives and to today’s meeting.
Next month's meeting is scheduled on Thursday, October 15, 2009 from 2:00-3:30pm in the Avaya Auditorium, ACES 2.302.
President Powers’ Address
President Powers began his address by stating that it is important to have candid dialogue between staff and administration. In these tough economic times, salary situation is very difficult, but does not reflect the administration’s perspective of staff. The administration very much appreciates every staff member and the job that he/she does for the University. Advancement of University should include staff and their input for solutions. He shared that the administration seeks to share dual governance with staff regarding decisions, many of which come quickly. UT Austin would not be as special a place to work without staff support; faculty view staff as special to campus.
President Powers expressed a desire to maintain regular day-to-day contact with UTSC leadership to identify solutions, sustain communication and transparency at meetings. Many new electronic applications, such as Twitter, are helpful in communicating comments and addressing concerns from staff. He suggested that regular newsletter to UTSC and staff would be helpful in soliciting and identifying solutions for the future.
President Powers shared that many good ideas come from non-supervisory, first, second and third line staff, but that there is a concern that these ideas are lost on or with supervisors, once submitted, that ideas are seen as a critique of the staff member rather than a method for improving processes, and that the response is oftentimes retaliatory rather than positive. There is a definite need to educate first-line supervisors on how to handle and respond in these situations in order to improve the process of ideas moving forward for consideration. Decisions that are made “in the Tower” are often misinformed, and there is a need to improve on this process, with more staff input.
Following his introductory remarks, President Powers opened the floor to questions from the Council:
Chair Ben Bond presented questions, on behalf of staff constituents:
Q: How long will the ‘freeze’ on staff hiring, salary and job reclassification last?
A: It is anticipated to last not more than this budget cycle. I’d like to take each component separately and provide more input on this question.
There is a need to recruit/retain staff talent in order to maintain the University a special place to work. We need to be competitive with other UT system institutions in order to retain great staff talent.
It is anticipated that “normal” salary policies will return next year for staff and faculty though budgets will determine the amount of increases that can be implemented. A review of vice president portfolios is in order to identify priorities; staff salaries are a priority in this review. Projections for two, three and six years are reviewed in order that UT Austin can reorganize and return to the previous level prior to this freeze having to be implemented.
A “flat” budget is expected over the next 3-4 years. Reallocations are occurring, with a focus on the top 3-4 priorities over the next few years; staff salaries are among that short list of priorities.
A strategic salary policy is needed; there ought to be rewards given for hard work and contributions, not just as a result of a “flat” salary policy. Lowest paid staff salaries are of particular concern. Staff salaries need to “catch up”, but staff and faculty salaries are both behind, in comparison to peer institutions of UT. It is difficult to project that a certain percentage of salary increase will be implemented across-the-board; some areas will need more than others to maintain ‘whole’ employees.
President Powers recognized that staff has already made the sacrifice for the University with the salary freeze in place. It is anticipated that normal staff salary policy will return in September 2010.
Though departments are being asked to be strategic and careful in their hiring decisions, an ‘across-the-board’ hiring freeze is not anticipated.
There is no freeze on reclassifications. Though departments are reorganizing to be more efficient, there is a desire to ensure that departments are legitimate in the reclassifications that are being put forward.
Q: Merit raise pools through year 2012? Timeline for merit raises?
A: These will depend on reallocations in the vice presidential portfolios, and the departmental units. The number is lower than the historical amount in years past, but again, this depends on the economic environment in the coming years.
Q: Regarding the $800 retention bonus given to state employees, but not to higher education employees, does the University plan to lobby the State Legislature for bonuses for higher education employees, either now or in the future?
A: There is a different funding system with the Legislature than with other UT system component institutions. For UT Austin, the Lege reviews whole budget, and then allocates additional funding based on that ‘whole budget’ amount. The additional funding includes monies for salary increases. Other institutions receive a lump sum amount, and then parson out funding to their colleges/departments for salary designations.
Higher education in state does not have particular retention issues. If there are retention issues and bonuses necessary, the funding for those would come out of overall budget. UT Austin would rather manage its own money rather than have the State Legislature distribute various amounts to UT Austin’s colleges/departments.
Regarding raises at other UT institutions, President Powers anticipates that, and other peer institutions that are giving raises, will find themselves in financial difficulties in 2-3 years and asking for assistance in the near future.
Each institution receives non-recurring monies, but employee salaries and bonuses cannot come from this monetary allotment. Other institutions are not dependent on the Available University Fund, so their budgets rose. When funding in the A.U.F. increases, there is the perception that UT Austin does not need assistance, and that is a misperception.
UTSC Chair Ben Bond stated that the Council would encourage discussions between college deans and vice presidents focused on reallocations of staff to consider alternatives before looking directly to staff for areas in which to make cuts. Letters from the dean of McCombs School of Business went out this week, indicating that the School will make a five percent (5%) reduction in its staff.
President Powers responded that strategic choices need to be pushed into organizations in order that decisions are made to best benefit the entire organization and University. People doing the work should be involved in the decision-making during these reallocations, in order that the process is performed in a thoughtful manner.
Following questions presented by Chair Ben Bond, the floor was opened to questions from attendees:
Erin Waneck: Would you support efforts for an Ombudsman position during this time?
President Powers: I favor an Ombudsman position and will keep working on it.
Marilyn Harris: Paid leave benefits are under review at this time. Can you assure us that we will not lose comp time benefits?
President Powers: There will be no salary cuts. We will have to review comp time and sick leave situations on a case-by-case basis. The budget is ‘flat’ right now and under control, but there may be things I do not know about but will have to find out. The State Legislature handles how sick leave and comp time is calculated.
Brittany Wilson: I would like to encourage the UT administration to remain cognizant of other expenses, like parking permits that further impact staff during times when salary increases are not distributed.
President Powers: We do think a lot about those expenses, as well as healthcare expenses, though we don’t always get it right.
Q: If there is no stabilization, has there been any thought given to furloughs vs. layoffs?
President Powers: Other universities make decisions to implement furloughs in the short-term in cases of severe budget shortfalls, however, UT Austin is not in that situation so we have not considered that option. Furloughs are short-term solution, and not the best way to operate. We must figure out what we can do well in our budget. If we have fewer resources, then we will produce less, remembering the importance of treating well the people doing the work. My general philosophy is to produce more over time rather than in short “bursts” or through quick decisions.
James Cooper (District 610.2): Will the State Legislature take action to use the Available Use Fund for emergencies like the one we’re in now?
President Powers: UT Austin receives a percentage (45%) of the A.U.F., and is designed to be used for “excellence”. Operating costs at UT Austin are higher than at other institutions because we strive to do things better than other System component campuses. Funding occurs at an average level, and the A.U.F. helps to make up the difference between that level and the level at which the University operates. Over the course of twenty years, the A.U.F. becomes part of the general budget.
Some might ask why the University doesn’t dip into the Permanent University Fund. The answer is that we cannot take or dip into the principal monies for endowment funds. We can increase the payout from 4.75% to 5% , which could add $8M or $16M to the University budget; we continually press this point to the State Legislature, but have not been successful.
Emil Kresl: Are the construction dollars on campus going to slow down? You state that UT Austin has a superior staff in Information Technology Services yet that department is going through layoffs at this time.
President Powers: We do have superior staff in ITS at UT Austin yet the department is going through a necessary reorganization at the moment. It is our goal to make the department more efficient and effective in its operation.
Regarding construction on campus, we need more space; that is part of moving ahead into the future, yet there needs to be a balance. The old Experimental Science Building was an unusable space, so the new building, which is named for former University president Norman Hackerman, is a necessary construction on campus. The new Student Activity Center, just north of Gregory Gym, is being funded by fees approved through a student referendum. The University is behind on building updates and repairs. Since construction costs are down right now, it is a better time to address these building issues while we can perform these updates at a lower cost. The future is unsure as the next five years will not be as robust.
Sandy Storey: Is there an incentive plan being considered for retirees?
President Powers: Yes, however, we haven’t worked out the details, and it is unsure when we’ll be able to confirm them. From a budgetary perspective, a program for retirees who anticipate working only another 1-2 or 3-4 years is not the best method. We need a broader “net” for retirees. This is a current active discussion.
Sandy Storey: Most people who are eligible to retire are at a higher income level, so might that free up funds to reallocate to other areas?
President Powers: One concern for that option is age discrimination; we do not tolerate or encourage that practice, and we certainly wouldn’t want to be perceived as doing so.
Marie Warden (District 601): Flex time is available to staff; for instance, working a 4/10 work week would save many resources. Is it possible that the President’s Office could implement a directive to allow flex schedules to be utilized in offices where possible?
President Powers: Flex schedules have been discussed as an option and solution to saving resources. We would have to study the pros and cons of this type of schedule. In some areas and for some jobs, a flex schedule would not be a good fit; it is not a “one-size-fits-all” option, but it is worth consideration.
Jennifer McClain (District 660.1): You mentioned using new technologies, like Twitter, to solicit and identify suggestions and/or address concerns from employees. Not all staff have access to computers on a daily basis? Are there long-term plans to provide training and resources to all staff on campus in order that we can all participate in the ‘technology world’?
President Powers: We are cognizant that there is a population of employees on campus that do not have regular access to computers, and we want to do what we can to address that concern. One suggestion has been to implement regular electronic and printed newsletters to employees campus-wide.
Louise Nelson (District 540.2): Regarding outsourcing labor on campus, are there other areas being considered for outsourcing, similar to what was implemented in Central Receiving?
President Powers: This is something we need to think about. We must consider the absence of the product or service if we contemplate the outsourcing of campus services. We are always looking for ways through which to save costs campus-wide.
Q: How does the University plan to reconcile salary freezes and layoffs while implementing faculty raises?
President Powers: We will look at whether or not the function or service is being performed efficiently. In the case of the layoffs occurring in Information Technology Services, functions were not being performed at maximum efficiency (i.e. 4 people performing the same job responsibilities that 3 people could perform). These tough economic times will force the University to look at all areas carefully. We need to do all functions well, including salary increases, as we move forward. We would rather implement layoffs of a few rather than not give salary increases to staff who are doing work well.
Following the Question & Answer period, Chair Ben Bond thanked President Powers for making time to address the Staff Council and answer questions at today’s meeting.
The University Staff Council adjourned today’s meeting at 3:30p.m.