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April 17, 2003

BPC goes to bat for staff on salary issue

A University Senate committee wants Pitt to award retroactive pay increases to staff who performed satisfactorily but didn’t get raises this year because their salaries were at the top of the pay scales for their jobs.

The Senate’s budget policies committee (BPC) on April 4 approved a resolution “strongly recommending” that:

• Such employees should get raises (retroactive to July 1, the beginning of Pitt’s fiscal year) of at least 1.5 percent, the percentage cost-of-living raise this year for staff and faculty judged by their supervisors to have performed satisfactorily. Larger raises should be considered for staff judged to have done better-than-satisfactory work, BPC said.

• In future years, staff salary ranges should be increased annually by at least the amount allocated under Pitt’s salary policy for maintenance of real salary for that year.

“Fairness demands it. Adherence to the University’s salary policy demands it,” BPC chairperson Phil Wion said of his committee’s recommendation, which he drafted.

Other committee members said it’s simply good business to award cost-of-living raises, at a minimum, to employees who do good work, regardless of whether they have “maxed out” of the salary ranges for their jobs.

Pitt Human Resources officials won’t reveal the number of maxed-out staff denied raises this year. Rich Colwell, vice president for steering of Pitt’s Staff Association Council who is privy to confidential information about staff compensation, said only that “it’s more than a handful of people.”

Whatever the number, denying cost-of-living raises to employees who performed satisfactorily violates Pitt’s salary raise policy, according to BPC — which explains why the committee, which is made up mainly of professors and normally focuses on compensation issues affecting faculty, took up a staff pay concern.

BPC plans to forward its resolution to Faculty Assembly. If the Assembly endorses it, the resolution would go to Senate Council, which includes administrators, staff and students as well as faculty members.

But administrators who serve as liaisons to BPC offered no encouragement that the committee’s recommendation would be followed even if it’s approved by the Assembly and Council, which are advisory groups and can’t enforce their recommendations.

Robert F. Pack, vice provost for Academic Planning and Resources Management, and Arthur G. Ramicone, vice chancellor for Budget and Controller, noted that Pitt’s staff classification system, instituted in 1999, is market-driven and does not guarantee cost-of-living raises regardless of whether the University can afford them.

“The reason the salary schedule has gone up in previous years has not been a function of increases in the cost of living,” Pack said. “This isn’t a federal government pay structure or a Social Security benefits structure that is linked to the Consumer Price Index. Our system is linked to job markets. It is linked to a competitive environment. As that competitive environment changes, the salary ranges change.”

And, in a year of economic stagnation with many employers laying off workers and freezing hiring and wages, the competitive environment did not justify raising Pitt pay ranges for most classifications of staff, said Ramicone.

Contrary to published reports and common belief on campus, Pitt staff pay ranges were not, technically, “frozen” this year, according to Ramicone. “The review [of competing employers’ salaries] was done, and it found that the market hadn’t moved because of the economy,” the vice chancellor said.

Vice Provost Pack said Wion’s resolution “essentially is proposing that we go back to where we were before we had the classification system, which is to say: There is no maximum salary. No matter what job you have, you can continue to work in that same job forever and continue to make more and more money, no matter what the job itself is worth.

“The philosophy of staff compensation is: A job is only worth so much money. You pay the job, not the person.”

“And that’s precisely the issue being joined here,” Wion countered. “There are living, breathing human beings in those positions.”

“Which is why,” Pack countered, “our salary ranges are fairly extensive. The mid-point of the salary range is, in fact, the appropriate level of compensation for the job, based on classification and market.”

Pitt encourages staff to transfer to better-paying, higher-responsibility jobs within the University, said Pack. Staff who have taken on additional duties, or otherwise believe their current jobs should be bumped up to a higher classification, should request an evaluation by Pitt’s Human Resources office, he said.

“You’ll get a fair evaluation,” said Pack.

Even staff at the top of their salary ranges may get raises under exceptional circumstances, under the classification system. Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Ronald Frisch told the University Times that several staff members got “over-max” increases this year following recommendations by their supervisors and approval by the provost or senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences.

Pitt benchmarks its staff salaries against various comparison groups, depending on the job duties involved, Pack told BPC.

“For clerical employees, for instance, it’s purely the local job market,” he said. “For certain high-level technical positions, it would be a national job market. For some higher-level lab technicians, it would be a higher education job market.”

But even under such a discriminating system, what constitutes a “market” ultimately is determined by human beings making subjective decisions, Wion said. His fellow BPC member and English department professor, Stephen Carr, observed: “’Market’ is a wonderfully large and amorphous term.”

“There is a principle here,” Carr argued, “and the principle is that if you’re doing satisfactory work, you should not suffer a loss of real pay. That is one of the core principles of this University’s salary increase policy,” which predates the staff classification policy.

Pack retorted: “All policies are modified by new policies that come after them. The question is: Is the salary policy like the Bill of Rights, and everything new should be measured against this bedrock set of laws?”

BPC members asked a different question: Should Pitt administrators violate the University’s salary policy and deny cost-of-living raises to hard-working staff, just because market conditions allow it?

Carol James, who represents the Staff Association Council on BPC, said that when the staff classification system was adopted, University administrators “pretty much assured” her group that staff would never max out of their salary ranges. Associate Vice Chancellor Frisch told the council at its June 9, 1999, meeting that pay ranges would be evaluated each year and would go up annually at least until 2004, ensuring that no staff member would reach the maximum. (Recently, Frisch said maximum pay ranges probably will be raised next year. See March 6 University Times at:

At the staff council’s April 9 meeting, a majority of members voted not to endorse a “Pay Over Maximum Statement” provided by Human Resources. The document summarizes guidelines governing an individual’s pay relative to the maximum of a salary range. The main reason council rejected the statement is that it conflicts with Pitt’s salary policy, said council president Barbara Mowery. See story on page 9.

“Good salary practice anywhere tries to maximize positive incentives and minimize negative incentives,” Wion said at last week’s BPC meeting. “Treating a small group of staff this way, reducing their real pay just because they happen to have bumped up against some externally determined threshold, creates all kinds of disincentives.”

It also undercuts Pitt’s academic mission, according to BPC member Sean Hughes of the education school.

“Have you tried to hire a new secretary or administrative assistant recently?” Hughes asked Pack. “If you’ve got somebody in a job like that who’s been around for 15 or 20 years, there’s a value-added quality that, if you’re not doing academic work, you don’t understand.”

Long-term clerical employees (among the staff likely to max out of their salary ranges) often are an academic unit’s front-line point of contact for graduate students and the public, Hughes said.

“Phil [Wion] is giving you the humane side” for not denying cost-of-living raises to deserving staff, Hughes said. “Mine’s the selfish side. For faculty, for the University as a whole, it makes sense to hold on to, and reimburse, long-term staff who are going a good job. Many of them are worth twice their salaries.”

Pack replied: “But the issue you’re really raising is, should the salary practices of the University of Pittsburgh be fundamentally different than those of other employers?”

To this, Wion said: “The answer is: Yes, to the extent that we are a community and we take into account more than the bottom line. We’re not a corporation” — although, he added, many corporations build inflation raises into their compensation policies.

“We’ve heard about market factors. Well, inflation is also an economic factor,” Wion said.

Ramicone pointed out: “Supply-and-demand and unemployment are economic factors, too.”

Some Pitt engineering graduates are receiving lower starting salaries this year compared with graduates from a few years ago, Ramicone noted. “You can argue that that’s unfair, too. I would argue that it’s because of the economy.”

Wion, sounding exasperated, said: “We are only urging the administration to make this tiny, tiny adjustment involving a very small number of people, asking the University to be a little bit more flexible and humane and a little less kneejerk market-oriented.”

“Also,” Carr said, “it’s the pragmatic thing to do.”

BPC voted 4-0 to approve the resolution but another three members abstained, saying they wanted more information about the classification system before voting or that Wion’s resolution didn’t go far enough in addressing the problem of maxed-out staff.

— Bruce Steele

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