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/
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.
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.
Staff Alliance Chair
c.c Also e-mailed to University Staff