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January 24, 2008

SAC committee targets flex time, benefits study

A Staff Association Council (SAC) committee plans to push for reinstatement of certain staff benefits, more flex-time options for staff and a systematic study of Pitt’s employee benefits package.

Steve Zupcic, chair of the SAC benefits committee, reported Jan. 16 on his committee’s work.

“Our committee passed the proposal for the reinstatement of the previous guidelines on involuntary separation from the University,” Zupcic said.

(See University Times, March 22, 2007.)

Involuntary separation, as defined in the Staff Handbook, includes both “those who have been separated involuntarily from the University due to position elimination, and those who have been separated involuntarily from the University due to inability to return to work while on approved disability leave.”

Prior to the change in guidelines, a University staff member who was separated involuntarily from Pitt could carry over accrued employee benefits for up to 12 months in the event the individual was re-hired by the University. In February 2007, that timeframe was reduced to 180 days.

Accrued benefits covered by the guidelines include vacation time; sick days; vesting in the defined contribution retirement plan; disability benefits, and Family Medical Leave Act eligibility.

SAC President Rich Colwell said the benefits committee proposal is expected to be voted on by SAC’s steering committee. If the proposal is endorsed, it will be put to a full Council vote. “If it is approved by SAC it then will go to all the appropriate decision-makers at the University [for consideration],” Colwell said.

Zupcic said the benefits committee also is developing a proposal to encourage more staff flex-time scheduling. “It’s clear that some individual departments do authorize flex time for all or some of their employees,” Zupcic said. “There also are individuals here who work four 10-hour days. While policies already are in place that allow flex time at the discretion of the supervisor, it is not encouraged by HR. What we’re asking is for it to be encouraged. If it is, it takes on a very different tone.”

The issue of flex time has become more important due to the impact of the Boulevard of the Allies construction project on commuting from the south and west of Oakland, he said.

“We’ve also found some recent research that shows that flex time lowers health care costs,” an important issue at the University, Zupcic said. He cited a research study’s findings published in the December 2007 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

“A couple of insurance companies looked in a systematic way, comparing frequency of health care claims and absenteeism from a group of hundreds of employees who were offered flex time versus another group of individuals engaged in the same kind of work who were not offered flex time,” he explained. “The flex-time group consistently had lower health care costs and lower absenteeism rates. Our committee will be preparing a proposal that includes this evidence.”

Pitt also should modernize its approach to the standard work week, which Zupcic claimed is a remnant of the Industrial Age and not appropriate for a technology-based 21st-century institution.

“Flex time is not for everybody. It’s obvious that certain jobs need to be 8:30 to 5,” he acknowledged. “And we realize that for any proposal on flex time, the final word is going to have to be with the approval of the supervisor.”

A benefits committee subgroup also will propose a comprehensive survey be taken by Human Resources of staff attitudes toward Pitt’s benefits package, Zupcic said. “Rather that just pursuing each individual [opinion] as it comes up, there was a consensus in our committee to ask for a systematic survey of staff,” he said. “What benefits are needed? Which ones are not needed? Which ones should be added, etc.? Which benefits encourage job applicants? Which benefits encourage staff retention?”

Zupcic also reported that Ron Frisch, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources, has agreed to have an HR staff member assist the benefits committee as it looks into “inconsistencies” in the benefits that are offered to part-time staff versus those offered to full-time staff.

In other SAC developments:

• Anna Sangl, chair of the program and planning committee, reported that SAC’s holiday blanket drive to aid Lemington Community Services, a local group that offers assistance to the elderly, netted 170 blankets and other donations. Sangl said her committee currently is planning the SAC spring assembly, which is set for April 9.

• The research and information committee has elected Jennifer Welton as its chair.

• Sherry Shrum has been elected co-chair of the benefits committee.

—Peter Hart

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