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September 26, 2002

Freeze on classification ranges means no pay hike for some staff

Because salary ranges for staff positions at Pitt were frozen at last year's numbers, a few staff have reached the maximum of their pay range and are ineligible for raises.

Pay ranges were not raised this year for the first time since the 1999 implementation of the Staff Classification System. The system introduced streamlined job classifications, new job families, fewer and broader salary ranges and more consistent working titles than its 1987 predecessor system.

The freeze on pay ranges raised concern at the Sept. 11 Staff Association Council meeting. SAC President Barbara Mowery said, "Our concern is especially for the staff in the job classifications with lower salary ranges. We hope the University will go back to its original practice of at least matching the cost of living increases."

When the staff classification system was implemented in July 1999, then-SAC President Rich Colwell said he feared that maximum limits on jobs could potentially bar long-term staff at the top of their pay range from receiving annual salary increases.

In response, Executive Vice Chancellor Cochran told an assembly that staff whose salaries, as of July 1, 1999, were at 90 percent or above their pay grade maximum would be grandfathered and not subject to the maximum for the range. However, promoted or transferring staff (including a lateral-position move), as well as staff who leave Pitt and return, would lose their grandfathered status, Cochran said in June 1999.

At the time of the plan's implementation, fewer than 5 percent of all staff were earning 90 percent or more of their maximum range, Human Resources (HR) officials had said.

These exceptions remain in effect, according to Ron Frisch, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources, whose office oversees the classification system. So staff who are at the maximum for their pay range but meet the criteria outlined by Cochran continue to be eligible for raises.

However, Frisch acknowledged that a small number of staff who do not meet the "grandfathered" criteria also have reached the top of their salary range. "There have been some individuals, who do not have an exception status, who have reached the maximum of their pay range," he said. "Unless there is an exception, these individuals will be eligible for an increase [only] when the maximum of their pay range increases."

Frisch said that when the Staff Classification System was first implemented, the salary ranges were widened significantly and that adjustments to the top of the ranges were made in fiscal years 2001 and 2002.

"These adjustments were driven by competitive market pressures," Frisch said. "While there will always be exceptions to the measurement, and we almost always know someone making more than we do for a similar position, our competitive analysis for [the current fiscal year] did not support an increase to our salary ranges."

He added that Human Resources, in conjunction with University units, would evaluate staff members who have reached the maximum pay level "to determine if they are classified appropriately."

Colwell said that affected staff could initiate a salary review process with their supervisor and Human Resources.

q Mowery also told the Sept. 11 SAC meeting that the staff association has asked Frisch to investigate claims that long-term staff are being targeted for departmental budget cuts.

Mowery told the University Times this week, "We had been contacted by staff who were concerned about the termination of long-time staff, especially [in the context of] the budget cuts and some reorganization which was taking place."

Colwell added, "Some long-term staff are being moved out. It's all done confidentially: If you ask one of these staff about the details, they say, 'I can't say anything.' It's part of their agreement. But since it's all secret, we don't know if they get different amounts or just what the deal is. That's bad."

Frisch said, "I am constantly looking at staff issues in relationship to terminations. I will be working with the leadership of the Staff Association Council on this subject; however, this information is confidential and will remain so."

But Colwell suggested an alternative. "Why won't they look into staff early retirement? As chair of the steering committee, I have charged the [SAC] job classification and benefits committees to look into [early retirement for staff]."

Colwell pointed out that Pitt has a recent precedent to draw on, the tenured faculty early retirement plan that the University offered in 1998. Faculty who qualified under that plan could volunteer to leave the University by a certain date with a pay package based on their salary. Of the 281 faculty who were eligible, 161 took the offer, which Pitt said would save $10 million-$14 million over seven years. See University Times, April 2, 1998: "Have early retirement to help reduce high-cost positions and replace them with lower-cost workers, which helps ease the budget," Colwell said. "Money is tight right now. If you pull 3 percent from a budget, for some departments the only wiggle room you have is staff salary budgets."

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 3

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