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May 31, 2007

Staff leaders meet to air issues

Staff leaders from Pitt’s five campuses met last week to discuss common workplace issues, such as flexible work schedules, chronic low salaries and emergency procedures, as well as campus-specific issues and initiatives.

Staff association representatives from Pitt’s five regionals met May 24 at the Greensburg campus for the annual Council of Campuses meeting. Staff associations rotate hosting the event.

Other general issues under discussion included:

• Staff morale.

• Pitt’s culture of confidentiality.

• The faculty initiatives budget line item that designates a separate pool of salary money for faculty only.

Pittsburgh Staff Association Council (SAC) President Rich Colwell said, “The Council of Campuses started about 12 years ago, and every year we get an idea of what some of the problems are at the regionals and we bring them back and report them to the appropriate officials, whether it’s HR (Human Resources) or (Executive Vice Chancellor) Jerry Cochran. So your concerns are being aired in Pittsburgh.”

Regarding staff salaries, Colwell reported that he and the other SAC voting member on the University Planning and Budgeting Committee (UPBC) this year voted against UPBC’s salary recommendation to the chancellor for fiscal year 2008.

“Their recommendation is confidential, but I can tell you we recommended a 6 percent raise for staff for meeting standards,” Colwell said. “They came up with something different.”

Colwell noted that SAC officers are given a great deal of information that is confidential. “It was confidential for years about the special line item for faculty initiatives. They actually get a different pool of money. I couldn’t say anything about it, but then it came out in the University Times when a faculty member reported on the faculty line item at a meeting.”

So while it appeared that SAC was unconcerned about the salary discrepancy, the truth is just the opposite, Colwell said. “I’ve been asking every year at UPBC that the staff have a similar line item. I’ve gotten nowhere with that,” he said.

Betty Homonai, a Pittsburgh SAC representative, added, “It seems so many things are considered confidential. It’s as though whatever they don’t want to come out, that they don’t want staff to know, they call it confidential, whether it should be or not.”

Regarding staff salaries, Sheila Confer, vice president of the Pitt-Greensburg Staff Association, pointed to her own experience when she changed jobs at UPG. “I moved to a position that was considered lateral, but I moved from an adviser position to a coordinator position, which means a lot more work and a lot more responsibility,” she said. “I was not allowed to get more than a certain percentage raise, which was so small that it was almost not worth it to me to take on the extra work.”

Debbie Biggerstaff of the Titusville Staff Association said she believes staff salaries also are a problem at her campus. “Staff, it seems to me, are considered dispensable, that a secretary can come in off the street and do your job and get paid the minimum,” she commented. “That’s been the mindset: Staff can be replaced but upper management cannot.”

Colwell said, “We’re in a different situation on the Pittsburgh campus. I would say the complaints we hear are: ‘I’ve been here for 20 years and this new hire is making way more money than I am.’”

UPG’s Confer said, “One of our biggest battles here concerns morale. Doing little things for us like trusting staff to have a flexible schedule can make us feel more valuable and appreciated for the work we do.”

Regarding flexible work schedules, Tom Horan, president of the Greensburg Staff Association, said a proposal on flex time drafted by Wes Jamison, vice president of academic affairs at UPG, is being considered by his staff group.

The proposal contains two main points: 1) During the summer, the campus would adjust its normal workday hours of 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. to 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (or 8 a.m.-4 p.m. with a half-hour lunch at the employee’s choice), and 2) Flex hours for individuals could be arranged at the discretion of the supervisor as long as the office had phone and other coverage during the adjusted workday hours.

Horan said that if endorsed by the UPG Staff Association, Jamison would forward the proposal to the new campus president, who takes office July 1.

Horan said, “The question is, what if the supervisor says you can’t work any flex time? Does that become a staff-wide issue?”

Colwell said that a University-wide policy already is in place covering flex time and that it was left to the discretion of the supervisors. Some supervisors permit a staff member to work flexible hours while others don’t, he said. “The problem is that it is inconsistent, and it is not encouraged that supervisors do this. The staff wish it was more encouraged than it is,” he said.

A related issue is a practical one, Colwell pointed out. “If everybody on the Oakland campus leaves at exactly 5 o’clock, we wouldn’t get anywhere. It would be a complete bottleneck. That’s one reason we’ve supported flex time, to avoid traffic congestion.”

Colwell noted that the SAC benefits committee is looking into the issue of how to make flex time more commonplace and more accepted by supervisors.

Andrea Leibfreid, president of the UPJ Staff Activities and Concerns Association, said staff at her campus were concerned that emergency procedures are not well disseminated.

“In light of the Virginia Tech incident, staff wanted to know what are our emergency procedures,” Leibfreid said. “Apparently, they’re in place, but not everybody knows what they are. I did email the president, the vice president and Kevin Grady, our head of security, and they say the policies are in place.”

Horan, who is the director of campus security at UPG, reported that on May 22 he and his counterpart heads of security from the five campuses met in Pittsburgh to discuss this issue. He confirmed that each campus does have emergency plans in place, but that in the past Pitt has been conservative about publicizing those plans.

Pitt is exploring ways to expand the media in which emergency information can be transmitted in addition to the Audix and mass email capabilities already in place, Horan said. “I can’t be specific right now because final decisions haven’t been made. You should be hearing something soon — probably within a month, but definitely before the start of the fall term — from your chiefs of police,” he said.

The five campus police and security chiefs also met with Pitt’s lawyers to discuss issues of personal privacy and proper safety assurances. “You want to be careful that email addresses and phone numbers are protected. And you can’t give a sense that whatever systems are in place will guarantee your safety. You can’t give a false sense of security,” Horan noted.

UPT Staff Association President Kathleen Plyler said, “I talked with our campus police officers and they also were concerned about [improving] the safety warning systems. But one of the problems that our campus police see is the requirement to have a four-year degree to be an officer, because they can’t find part-time people to fill in when they need them. I could understand it if the degree [required] is in criminology or something related, but requiring a four-year degree in just anything doesn’t make sense.”

The regional campus staff leaders also summarized the charitable and extracurricular activities that their respective staff associations sponsored.

Efforts on the Greensburg campus include sponsoring a fundraiser for the American Heart Association, at which the Staff Association raised more than $1,500. The campus also partners with the Red Cross and volunteers at the local food bank.

“We have two big events for staff,” Horan reported. “We have the holiday staff party, with a nice luncheon. And we have a summer croquet party for staff, which we’ve parlayed into a pig roast. Basically, the whole staff, about 95 of us, come out for that.”

The Johnstown campus staff group sponsors a number of activities and charitable events, Leibfreid reported. Those include a staff trip to Washington, D.C., in March for the cherry blossom season; an annual staff picnic and Trivial Pursuit game; “breakfast with Santa” for about 120 local kids; themed basket raffles; Project Bundle-Up with the Salvation Army, and Johnstown Chiefs Night to attend a local hockey game.

The Bradford Staff Association partners with Relay for Life, an event that benefits the American Cancer Society, according to Steven Williams.

UPB also added some activities this year, Williams said. Those included a book-of-the-month club and offering staff dance lessons that attracted 20 couples, he said.

Heidi Anderson, also of Pitt-Bradford, noted that UPB staff help to distribute food at the local food bank. Staff also enjoy the long-established golf and bowling outings, she added.

UPT’s Plyler reported that staff at her campus help with Adopt-a-Family, a Salvation Army charity. “This year we adopted three families and helped the kids get some winter needs,” she said. “We also have a March of Dimes Walk America team. Every February we have a pre-order bake sale, where this year we raised over $400.”

For the past two years, the staff have sponsored a quilt show in the library. “We get a lot of people from the community to visit our campus for that, so it’s raising our profile,” she said.

“Overall, our team goal this year was $3,000, but we actually raised $4,083.”

Colwell commented, “On the community relations aspect, all the staff councils at the regionals do a fantastic job. We do some [charitable] activities, but our main concerns at the Pittsburgh campus are salaries, benefits, policies, procedures and guidelines. Our concern is that we don’t lose any ground in salary maintenance or in any benefits.”

In addition to the meeting of staff leaders, a luncheon and a Greenburg campus tour, the group attended a PowerPoint presentation by Patricia Duck, director of UPG’s Millstein Library and coordinator of regional University Library System libraries.

Duck demonstrated some of ULS’s services and newer features.

—Peter Hart

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