Proposed changes to University of Alaska layoff regulations

On the afternoon of Wednesday Feb. 4, Staff Alliance and System Governance received from Chief Human Resources Officer Erik Seastedt proposed changes to University of Alaska layoff regulations. As opposed to policy, which require Board of Regents approval to change, regulation changes require only the signature of the President after a review by governance. We have been given until February 17 to respond.

In brief the regulation changes affect:

  • The reasons for layoff
  • Final determination of layoff selection process
  • Halving the length of notice or pay in lieu of notice for exempt employees (reducing from 6 months to 3 months)
  • Alternatives to layoffs
  • The grievance process is replaced with a review process

A copy of the proposed regulation changes as well as a form for collecting your suggested edits, feedback and concerns is available here: http://www.alaska.edu/governance/items-under-review/

CHRO Seasted will be at our Staff Alliance meeting Feb. 10 to answer questions and discuss our proposed edits. The agenda and link to join the meeting is posted here: http://www.alaska.edu/governance/

Some context

Over the next few years the university anticipates a series of significant funding reductions. The estimated reduction in State General Funds in FY16, combined with fixed cost increases, puts the university at a $42.9 million loss. That’s expected to be followed again, and again, in FY17 and FY18 for an estimated grand total of $90.9 million in actual reductions and a cumulative impact of reductions and rising costs of $136.6 million in just three years. By comparison last years’ entire university state appropriation was about $370.6 million.

With these deep cuts in funding it is only logical that there will be significant reductions in staffing as well. It seems a really lousy time to have reductions made to the length of notice and or pay in lieu of notices, considering that most of us feel more vulnerable than ever, but this change, like the recent addition of a furlough policy, is trying to reduce the total number of layoffs necessary. We simply cannot afford to have people in positions for six months that have already been identified for layoff, nor afford to send everyone out with a full six months pay.

After reviewing the proposed changes and speaking with CHRO Seastedt, we have identified a few real benefits in the changes, but we have also found areas we wish to revise or clarify. The way that the changes to the review process are currently written we find unacceptable and will be working with administration and legal counsel to change.

First the good news.

A number of changes in section E, alternatives to layoffs, make it easier to move into appropriate vacant positions regardless of campus or university. It requires HR offices to assist potential layoff employees and employees in layoff status to find employment. It also makes layoff employees priority in consideration for internal hires.

A change in section C, selection for Layoffs, adds a higher level of oversight to the final determination of the order for layoff. The intention behind this change is to add a layer of protection from biases of a supervisor or department head in the selection process. There is some concern that this change diminishes the authority of departments and we anticipate further discussion and possible revisions in this area.

The hard part

The reduction of the length of notice, or pay in lieu of notice, for exempt employees from six months to three months is financially and practically driven. The revisions as proposed were intended to be signed in March and to go into affect for exempt employees on August 1, 2015. Essentially to give employees six months notice that their layoff benefits will be reduced to three months instead of six. There was no change to the notice for nonexempt employees.

The truly troubling part(s)

As your staff leaders we are truly troubled by the proposed changes under section I, review of layoff or recall decision, and will be working very hard to oppose them and to find a solution that affords employees our right for due process.

According the CHRO Seastedt the intent was to prevent a slew of time intensive hearings, especially should all members of a department selected for layoff decide to grieve their determination, when all that could be grieved, even under current policy, is the process by which the layoff is determined. (e.g. did the process follow the rules in section A) So they substituted a review instead of a grievance request and removed layoffs from grievance regulations. The revision provides for a more expedient layoff review process when appropriate.

In cases where an employee asserts grounds that require a due process review, a hearing will be provided, as in the existing grievance procedure.  Regardless of the process that is used, the review will still result in a recommendation to the chancellor (or chief human resource officer, for statewide employees) who remains the decision-maker in layoff reviews.

However, when combined with the change in final determination in section C, we now have a regulation that says your only recourse for challenging your layoff selection is to go to the person who approved it in the first place. This is appears to be a violation of our rights to due process and a mistake resulting from making to many changes at once without fully analyzing the cumulative impacts of these adjustments. This is particularly troubling since the problem that this is trying to prevent is a hypothetical one at best.

Timeline

As stated above we were given an extremely short timeline for response. The good and worthy intention of that was to give employees adequate warning that layoff benefits were being reduced so they could begin to prepare financially. However that well-intentioned deadline doesn’t even begin to allow the time needed for the governance system to review and respond. Considering the very troubling issue highlighted above, in addition to numerous other concerns and suggested edits not even addressed here, we will be requesting more time from the President. The need for expediency does not supersede the need to make these changes correctly and in the best interest of employees and the university.

This discussion does not address every change in regulation, nor every suggested edit that we have identified this far. I encourage you to take moment to review the changes yourself and to submit your suggestions through the online response form: http://www.alaska.edu/governance/items-under-review/

A note on this communication

(Applies to the e-mail version.) This is a new e-mail list, overseen by the system governance office, intended to improve the process of distributing information and when combined with the new centralized response collection improves the speed with which governance can facilitate two-way communication flow. This does not supersede local governance connections or communications and will only be used for items of great importance.

It is a pleasure to serve as your representative and all of us in governance will be working hard to be your voice during these times of rapid change. Please feel free to contact me or your local governance representative with further questions. Thank you for your service to the university.

Best Regards,
Monique Musick
Staff Alliance Chair

c.c Also e-mailed to University Staff

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Proposed changes to University of Alaska layoff regulations

  1. Niki Countryman

    Specific cost saving ideas to be brought before this committee and the submit team. What is below is straight forward business organization design and will impact ever part of the University. Fewer Doctorates in specialties other than business should be put in roles that require overall business decisions. Academia and the Business aspects of the University need to be kept separate.

    Each department should be held accountable for the revenue it does or does not generate, the number of graduates and the the number of graduates employed after graduation. UA should be known for producing graduates that are employed and for those who are already employed returning to college to increase their employable skills to move up in their company.

    First have SW outsource the preparation of 990 tax forms and the monitoring of benefit payments. Many other universities do this.

    Second propose that all faculty use the Blackboard system for E-Learning courses instead of using IT time to create their own websites. The University pays for the Blackboard system but only 13% of faculty choose to use it. This would benefit students as they would only have to learn one distance education system instead of all the ones the different faculty choose.

    Third have the University work to partner with local hospitals in Anchorage and Fairbanks to help offset the costs of the nursing program so that it can be expanded. The argument for not expanding a program with an 18 month waiting list is that is costs to much to educate a nurse rather than an English major. If the revenue source is there work to develop a partnership with the hospitals. Propose to them: If you help defray the costs we will educate future employees for you so you do not have to pay traveling nurses twice the typical wage plus a living stipend to stay only a couple of years. You would receive local employees that live in Alaska and would stay for the long term. (this model can be used for other medical fields)

    Fourth – Propose a pay cut for all employees proportional to the amount of wages/salary received. So executives would receive a higher cut over lower paid front line employees.

    Fifth – Postpone the startup of new programs such as the law program at UAA and the Medical school program at UAF. Now is not the time to put scare resources there.

    Sixth – Cut redundant academic programs that produce few graduates so that one Main University or their respective campus it is built up. This goes for the many doctoral programs at UAF that produce only a handful of graduate every couple of years. Faculty can choose to move or teach via distance education. There does not need to be more than one Philosophy program for example. Focus on programs where students are employed before they graduate such as the high demand for IT professionals, engineers, teachers, and medical personnel. A partnership with many of the IT firms would be a great way to expand that program. Advertise the number of graduates employed or offered jobs even before graduation. Make each campus known for a specialty and build it up. UAF could be known for Arctic Research and Biology, UAA – Medical and Business with its KPC campus – Petroleum Technology and Instrumental Technology, UAS – Mining and Undergrad Accounting, liberal arts. These programs generate revenue for the University and just as important provide its graduates with jobs and the State with employees. This would also save a core academic competency for the University. (Yes, it would mean fewer support staff but also fewer executives as there would be less need to monitor non-revenue generating programs)

    Recruit adjuncts to teach GER courses that are reviewed and approved by the E-learning process started at KPC so that there is consistency and adequate core content preparing students to move up to the higher courses. Faculty can teach the 300-400-500-600 level courses. There would need to be fewer of faculty. Faculty that just want to do research can choose to leave the University and work for and R&D firm.

    Finally cut the admin positions of those working out of state. Those jobs belong to Alaskans. Unless it is an adjunct or a faculty member teaching a course that is generating revenue it should be cut immediately.

    We cannot cut our way out of this reduction we must generate revenue through increased enrollment and creating partnerships with business to produce the employees in IT, Healthcare, engineering and education they are desperately seeking. All of these programs can be expanded on. With scholarship funds mandated by the state directed towards them. Advertise the scholarships available in these areas and more students will choose them.

  2. An update from President Gamble/General Counsel:

    In light of the concerns raised as to time for governance to respond on
    the proposed revisions to the layoff regulation, President Gamble asked
    me to clarify the context of the expedited review period.

    Board of Regents Policy authorizes the adoption of “emergency
    regulations” without prior review by affected governance groups, if the
    president determines that there is an urgent need for the regulation.
    In light of the unprecedented reductions in the university’s funding
    that are expected in the coming weeks, consideration was given to
    adoption of the revisions to the layoff regulation as an emergency
    regulation. Ultimately, President Gamble decided to provide for an
    expedited review by governance instead of adopting revisions as an
    emergency regulation without prior review. His decision, however, does
    not change the “emergency” nature of the current budget situation or the
    regulation revisions that are needed to respond expeditiously to budget
    reductions.

    Considering the ongoing nature of the state’s financial circumstances,
    there may be other times in the future that the current practice of
    allowing 45 days for comment by affected governance groups will need to
    be suspended. However, the president is committed to continuing to make
    every effort to inform staff prior to adopting or revising regulations.

    Ardith

    Ardith Lynch
    Associate General Counsel
    University of Alaska

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