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March 18, 2004

SAC Wants Salary Benchmarking Review

The Staff Association Council (SAC) says some Pitt staff salaries are “noticeably low” compared with similar positions in the region.

At last week’s SAC meeting, SAC President Rich Colwell said that the staff council annually requests a Human Resources (HR) review of staff salary ranges in light of increased expenses such as cost-of-living, health care premiums and this year’s potential hike in Pitt parking permit fees.

This year, SAC also wants a review of benchmarking procedures that govern staff pay ranges under Pitt’s job classification system.

In a letter last month to Ron Frisch, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources, Geoff Bonina, chair of SAC’s salary and job classification committee, wrote: “According to our research, many staff at the University of Pittsburgh receive an annual salary that is noticeably low when compared to the averages of similar positions in the Pittsburgh area.”

The letter did not specify which Pitt jobs or local positions SAC had evaluated.

Frisch told the University Times this week that the HR compensation team is working with SAC’s salary and job classification and benefits committees on this issue.

“I am confident that a thorough understanding of the competitive ranges will continue to be explained,” Frisch said. “Frankly, it is easy to find data that supports virtually every position. As I have reminded the University community, in particular the officers of the Staff Association Council on several occasions, our staff salary ranges are competitively benchmarked on both local and national standards, [that is], comparing our positions at the University to other similar positions from an assortment of employers.”

But that analysis must include total compensation costs, such as health and education benefits, in addition to salary data, he added.

Since 1999, Pitt has benchmarked most of its staff salaries against those of other employers in western Pennsylvania. For certain higher-level technical positions, Pitt benchmarks against national markets.

In fiscal year 2003, which began July 1, 2002, for the first time under the job classification system the University administration’s benchmarking survey found that the competitive environment — characterized by economic recession, layoffs and hiring freezes — did not justify raising Pitt pay ranges for most staff positions.

One consequence of that decision was that 82 Pitt staff initially were ineligible for raises, regardless of their employment performance, because their salaries had reached the maximums that the University pays for their job classifications. Of those 82, nearly half ultimately did receive raises following a successful appeal process, administration officials said.

That decision also prompted a debate at last May’s Senate Council meeting, where some argued that the administration’s pay-range freeze contradicts Pitt’s 1993 salary increase policy. That policy specifies that staff who perform satisfactorily should receive a “maintenance of real salary” raise, a percentage annually set by the chancellor.

At the March 10 SAC meeting, Frisch pointed out that the ranges were raised for the current fiscal year, and that as a result “very few” staff are currently in the “maxed-out” category. He added that HR was willing “to walk any staff member through” the requirements for an exemption.

Those requirements include having a staff member’s supervisor appeal on his or her behalf based either on meritorious/outstanding service or because the staff member had assumed additional duties beyond what the job description mandated.

Frisch also pointed out that, at the time of the job classification system’s implementation, some 200 staff who as of July 31, 1999, were earning 90 percent or more of their pay range maximum were “grandfathered,” and thus exempt from maxing out.

He said that HR had not completed its evaluation of the pay ranges for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. “This is not on our radar screen right now due to the ongoing [health] benefits negotiations,” Frisch told the University Times.

In a related matter, SAC member Joan Neitznick said that the HR web site continues to list secretary IV as a Pitt job despite the fact that the classification is being phased out.

Frisch acknowledged that the web posting was misleading. “I have no trouble having that removed from the job families web site,” Frisch said. “When we rolled out the job classification system in 1999 we were beginning to phase out the secretary IV position. We were just waiting for the incumbents [to change classifications or retire]. I think there are only nine of them left. I have no problem alerting them to why their positions will no longer be listed on the web site.”

Neitznick, who supervises some secretaries at the Hillman Cancer Center, said she was frustrated with seeking promotions and raises for secretary IIIs in her department who are at or near the maximum pay range and whose job responsibilities have grown.

But Frisch countered: “There’s really no reason someone who is a secretary III can’t continue to grow in perpetuity in their current job class and job family. As we continue to raise the ranges, hopefully from year to year — we did have the one year when we didn’t — but as we continue to raise them, going forward, we anticipate there will always be an expansion of salary dollars to account for relative responsibilities.”

He said that by definition the role of the secretary III is significantly different today than 20 years ago.

“People should be able to grow within their ranges as the roles and responsibilities grow,” Frisch continued. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of in being a secretary III for the rest of your [working] life, assuming the range and your responsibilities allow you to continue to expand. Ideally, if your job responsibilities change significantly, or your role changes significantly then it does merit a job re-classification. But if the range continues to rise, you should be able to grow in your job.”

Frisch added that departments can request an HR evaluation of a position to determine if a new classification is warranted.

In other SAC developments:

• In response to several members’ questions, Frisch said there were no plans to institute mandatory training for supervisors. He said he supports the concept in theory, but that implementation is impractical due to the wide range of supervisory responsibilities and reporting configurations across the University. “We recommend that supervisors seek training, but it has never been required [University-wide],” he said. “Some units do require it, but that’s at the unit’s discretion.”

• Ann Ostroski, chair of the research and information committee, said that the final report following the April 7 University Senate’s spring plenary session on “Examining the Roles of Women at Pitt” will include a project summary of her committee’s efforts to promote increased training sessions for Pitt staff. Ostroski’s committee, in conjunction with the Senate, will petition HR to endorse release time (subject to supervisory approval) for staff to attend the plenary session and related workshops March 25-April 5.

• The chair of SAC’s grievance committee, Carol James, whose position in Purchasing recently was eliminated, has been replaced by interim chair Carol Hodgkiss. Hodgkiss, who also serves as SAC’s treasurer, said she and the other SAC officers would confer on all staff grievance concerns.

• April 1 is the deadline for submissions to the SAC Tracks spring newsletter. Vice president for communications Linda Marts said she expects the issue will include a column from University Senate President Nicholas Bircher on the important role staff play at the University.

• Jim Lyle, chair of the safety and security committee, said staff still can enroll in CPR training classes providing they meet the deadlines for registration and pre-payment. The deadline for the March 27 class is March 22; for the April 3 class the deadline is March 29. For more information, call Lyle at 4-6218.

Lyle also reported that repairs to lighting fixtures and emergency phones in the O’Hara garage have been completed.

• SAC’s annual council of campuses meeting, which brings together staff councils from the five Pitt campuses, is in the planning stages, Carol Neuner, vice president for steering, reported. This year’s meeting will be hosted by the Pittsburgh campus SAC.

—Peter Hart

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