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January 19, 1995

SAC protests manner in which Pitt developed severe weather policy

Staff Association Council (SAC) has sent a letter to Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor protesting the manner in which the University's new severe weather policy was developed.

According to the letter dated Jan. 4, SAC expressed several concerns with a draft of the policy at a Dec. 15 meeting of the Human Resources policy review committee that it feels were ignored.

At the time, the letter maintains, SAC was told by Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Darlene Lewis that the policy already had "passed muster with senior staff" and SAC was discouraged from making any major changes to the draft.

"The purpose of this memorandum is to express disappointment with a process that asks for input after senior staff approval," SAC's letter states. In comments during the January SAC meeting, President Darlene Harris also complained about a lack of timely communication involving the policy draft. She was particularly disturbed about a memo from Lewis dated Dec. 23 that informed SAC that the policy had been forwarded to the chancellor for his approval.

The memo notes that "aside from the SAC representatives, all [policy review] committee members have endorsed the policy as currently written." According to Harris, the memo was sent through the U.S. mail on Dec. 23, the last day before winter recess, and was not received by SAC until Jan. 3, the date on which the new severe weather policy went into effect.

"So, while we were trying to express the three major concerns that we had, the chancellor was signing the policy," Harris said.

Lewis was not present during discussion of the severe weather policy at SAC's January meeting and later could not be reached for comment.

SAC's major concerns about the policy, as outlined in the letter to Chancellor O'Connor, involve the use of sick time, classes canceled versus the University closing, and the designation of essential personnel.

* Use of sick time: SAC wants all staff to be allowed to use accrued sick time, in addition to accrued vacation and personal days, to cover absences when Pitt remains open due to extreme weather conditions.

According to SAC's letter to the chancellor, Human Resource's Lewis told SAC members that the use of a sick/family obligation day was appropriate in cases where schools were closed and parents had to stay home with their children.

"Not allowing employees without children to use a sick day to preserve their own health and safety will undoubtedly be perceived as discriminatory by staff," SAC's letter maintains. "Last year, the inconsistency created when sick day use was left to the discretion of each departmental administrator resulted in a widespread feeling of unfairness." SAC's letter notes that "of several other institutions surveyed on this topic, the majority allowed the employee to choose between sick, vacation and personal time."

* Classes canceled versus Pitt closing: While recognizing that staff and faculty are different and the need to attract and retain quality faculty often calls for the two groups to be governed by different policies, SAC feels that in extreme weather conditions both groups should be treated equally. "We felt on those days when classes are canceled the students don't have to report, the faculty doesn't necessarily have to report, why should the staff risk their lives in order to come here if it is that severe to disrupt classes, which is a very rare situation," the letter states. "We're not talking about days when the city just decides to close the schools. We're talking about big obstacles."

* Designation of essential personnel: SAC believes that implementing a severe weather policy without specifically designating essential personnel through a centralized system perpetuates the confusion of the past. "These designations should be developed and communicated simultaneously with the policy," the letter maintains. "It is the practice of other institutions to designate those positions as 'essential' during the initial recruitment and employment process. We recommend that Pitt, like others, take more conscientious efforts to ensure that essential personnel are widely identified." SAC would like to have a centralized system that clearly tells staff if they are considered essential and expected to come into work when an emergency situation arises.

Under the new policy, essential personnel at the Pittsburgh campus will be designated by the chancellor in consultation with the provost, the senior vice chancellor for Business and Finance, senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences, and the senior vice chancellor for Health Administration.

A list of essential personnel is to be maintained by each responsibility head for his or her area. SAC also recommended adding WAMO radio station to the media outlets on which information about Pitt would be broadcast during severe weather conditions. In the letter, however, SAC says the addition of the station to the media list was not important.

About the policy that was presented to Chancellor O'Connor and signed by him on Jan. 3, Harris said: "It seems to be very ambiguous. It is actually putting into writing basically what you had before." "It seems to be the same old policy," SAC member Rich Colwell said. "I don't see anything new about it."

–Mike Sajna

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