Monthly Archives: April 2015

Staff Alliance Chair testimony April 9, 2015

Good morning Madame Chair, members of the Board, and President Gamble,

I am sorry I cannot be in Bethel with you today, but understand the need for cost-savings and the rural location makes this meeting particularly tight. I look forward to the inter-personal interaction at the June meeting in Fairbanks, especially since that is when we will be recognizing the 2015 Staff Make Students Count awardees.

I would like to extend my gratitude to all of you for your service, and especially those who will be leaving before the next meeting.

Courtney, your work as a Student Regent has been exemplary. I respect the hard work you have put in, the obvious preparation you take for each meeting, and your willingness to reach out and bridge communication between students and the Board. I appreciate your black-and-white engineering view of the world in that I always clearly understand where you stand on any position and why. You set a high standard for future Student Regents.

President Gamble, it has been a pleasure to work with you. The monthly meetings and open-door policy you extended to me as Alliance Chair provided invaluable insight into the current affairs of the state and the university and a real sense of open communication. I hope the president’s office remains open to governance long into the future.

This is also the final BOR meeting for UAS Chancellor John Pugh and Associate Vice President Kit Duke and I include them in giving thanks for all of your dedication and hard work.

UA staff are incredibly supportive of this institution. Despite this challenging fiscal climate, which has anxiety levels extremely high, there is still a sense of community and a generosity that cannot go unremarked. Participation rates in fundraising both within and outside of the university is a testament to this.

Staff Alliance conducted a survey to gauge interest in voluntary reductions in contract. Of the more than 1,000 staff who replied, 49% expressed interest in some form of voluntary reduction. Comments written in response to the survey also provided valuable insight. The reasons to take a reduction vary, from interest in extra time with family in the summer, to willingness to give up an hour a week if it means saving the jobs of co-workers.

Many people who said they could not take a voluntary reduction either could not afford a reduction, or are working more than 40-hours a week already and expressed the concern over the ability to actually reduce work time in response to reduced pay or contract. The impact of unfilled positions and staffing reductions on the workload of those who remain is particularly evident.

Many staff contacting me want information on how they can go about volunteering for a reduction. Many who wish only to help bridge the budget gap want to know if their contracts will be extended again when others’ jobs are no longer on the line. They want to know that they will not have to take an additional furlough if one is mandated after they volunteer.

While understood that any approval and specific details must be dealt with on a case-by-case level depending on staffing needs, general clarity that everyone in the system can understand is needed to facilitate this process.

Last week university staff and faculty received a message from President Gamble that the Senate Finance Committee removed all funding associated with salary increases from the State budget. The intention seems clear— we can’t justify cutting programs and eliminating positions while still giving employees a raise.

We haven’t had time as a council to discuss a loss of a compensation increase this year, but those who have contacted me say they think that flat-funding sounds fair, especially to preserve jobs. We wish to continue the conversation with administration as more details emerge.

The latest from Juneau has the university facing about a $43 million overall reduction when both budget cuts and fixed cost increases are taken into account. Even with flat compensation funding it is likely that there will still be furloughs and layoffs.

Furloughs are frightening, especially to staff working and living paycheck to paycheck, but are better than layoffs. Layoffs, the loss of real members of our community, affect staff more than most. The expectation is that staff will hear from administration as soon as details on the number of layoffs, days of furlough or other measures are decided upon and that governance will be involved during the process.

Maintaining a strong university requires strong staff and faculty to provide quality service and value to students. Faculty teaching and conducting research maintains the university’s mission and reputation. Customer service and the functionality of the system overall is also a key quality driver and is dependent on maintaining quality staff. Our best people are also the ones who can most easily get jobs elsewhere. We can’t afford to lose them, and we can’t afford to lose our competitiveness as an employer.

Attracting quality employees requires competitive benefits, especially when compensation is often below market. This is why the tuition benefit is of such importance. It is also why staff have expressed some concern in the proposed change to the university’s Optional Retirement Program. While easy to see why the university would seek to avoid $2 mil in fines, the change is not without risk. We must be able to continue to attract the quality staff we need to be successful.

We are still working to refine governance processes. We are discussing protocols and timelines, and the role of the governance office in facilitating and tracking changes and keeping central records.

My written Governance report (http://www.boarddocs.com/ak/alaska/Board.nsf/files/9UQV697F2CFC/$file/2015-4-GovReportBOR.pdf) included a couple examples of when the process worked well and when results were unexpected. We want to resolve these inconsistencies.

Communication throughout all of this rapid change is key. In consideration of the recently announced departure of the System Governance Officer LaNora Tolman, governance leaders need to be involved in discussion about the office and care taken to make sure the governance process is not only used, but improved upon.

One way to begin is to make good use of governance representatives during these meetings and when considering tough decisions. You have our attention and we are here to help provide a representative voice. Please ask questions whenever they arise, but most especially now….

Thank you.

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Staff input is important — please share with us

Earlier today university staff and faculty received a message from President Gamble that the Senate Finance Committee removed from the budget all funding associated with salary increases. Impacted are all union and non-represented employees in the State including the University of Alaska. While this is not final it is not the first or last bad news announcement we are hearing as the State struggles to overcome a huge budget deficit.

In the message he states: “The chancellors and I have had ongoing discussions about how best to make the cuts we know will be necessary, looking at all options available to minimize the impact to the people and programs that are so important to the University’s ongoing success and ability to help the state out of the current fiscal situation. Furloughs, reduced schedules and reduced pay increases have all been a part of this discussion, in addition to the prioritization and review work that will guide decisions on program and service cuts.”

As governance leaders we too are part of this discussion. Last month we sent out a survey asking staff to indicate if they would be willing to voluntarily take a reduced contract or work reduced hours. More than one thousand staff answered the survey. And while a little more than half indicated they could not afford to take a voluntary reduction, the other 49 percent indicated willingness and interest in a reduced schedule. In addition to the raw survey data there were hundreds of written comments and suggestions. Thank you so much to everyone who responded and shared this valuable feedback. It will be read, it will be used, and it is valuable information.

Next week I will again be speaking to the Board of Regents about staff concerns and successes. The concerns we have are many: the budget, cost cutting, potential furloughs, elimination of positions, increases in health care costs, decreases in workforce and rapid changes in policy. I could sure use some good news stories and successes to share as well!

As I prepare to address UA leadership I turn to staff for your suggestions, concerns, successes and fears. The better I know what is happening to individual staff the better I can address our concerns as a body. You can leave a comment here, email mmusick@alaska.edu, use the staff submission form https://www.alaska.edu/governance/staff-alliance/submissions/ or send comments back through your local governance representatives.

I also encourage all of you to pay careful attention to the news from Juneau during these final weeks of the legislative session. One of the best ways to keep up with how the university is faring throughout the session is the Capital Report: https://www.alaska.edu/state/report/. In addition 360 North Gavel to Gavel has full coverage of committee meetings and House and Senate sessions: http://www.360north.org/gavel-guide-2015/

One way or another your voice is very important right now, and shared governance is important channel to have it heard through. Thank you for your dedication to the university through these difficult times. Keep up the good work.

Monique Musick
Chair Staff Alliance

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