Staff question new HR plan

When Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer Susan Carkeek stood up in front of a crowd of UVA employees to tout the University’s new human resources plan, she had to make one tough sell. Despite a lot of talk and info gathering, precious little was known about the plan prior to that May 22 meeting. And even afterwards, staff still had plenty of questions about a system that hasn’t been fully fleshed out.

Previous coverage:

Staff concerned about trust, pay
Still waiting for glimpse at new HR system

From the ground up
UVA gets its official HR restructure-er

Since UVA was granted more autonomy from the state in 2006, the University has had the option of two HR systems—the state system, and a new University system as yet undefined. Hence the “town hall” meeting in Newcomb Hall, which served as the kick-off to a review period of high concepts of the new HR plan that is still in development.

New workers hired after July 2006 will be automatically switched to the new HR system, slated for implementation in January 2009. The majority of UVA staff, however, must ponder a large and confusing decision of whether to switch to a new program about which they know precious few details. Come October, over 3,500 employees will each have to decide whether to switch to the new University HR plan or stay in the existing state system, known as the Classified plan.

An undercurrent of skepticism ran through the hour-and-a-half meeting, with staff members asking pointed questions about the funding of the new plan, employee leave and a written guarantee that salaries wouldn’t drop.

“When I look around the room,” said UVA staff member Michael Kidd, “I see people I’ve know for the last 14 years. A lot of them have been here a lot longer than I have. And they’re worried.”

“Slowly but surely, you’re going to see benefits decrease for University staff,” predicts UVA employee Brad Sayler.

In October, employees will have 90 days to enroll. Under the restructuring legislation, UVA must open the option to enroll at least every two years, though Carkeek suggests that enrollment periods could come more frequently.

“If people are not convinced in this 90-day period,” she says, “and they want to wait and see what it looks like, then they’ll have a chance.”

On the HR website, the University touts the new system’s “Career Paths” for providing pay based on capability, performance and market rates, eliminating “restrictive salary rules.” The implication is that under the new HR system, which boasts “market-relevant salary ranges” and is free from the old system’s pay bands, employees would see an increase in pay.

But UVA staff member Brad Sayler asked Carkeek how the University planned to fund this part of the system. Carkeek told Sayler that there is no plan to budget more money for the new system.

“It’s a matter of what we do with the funds we have now,” Carkeek says. She points out that roughly 70 percent of UVA’s budget goes to human resources. “As it grows—and it is growing—those are the funds that we’ll use.”

Sayler and others are concerned that once UVA has workers locked into the new plan, the University will begin to slowly roll back benefits, leave and possibly pay.

“These Career Paths are the carrot that they’re dangling in front of us here to get as many people as possible to switch over to the new University system,” says Sayler. “What I think will happen…and it won’t happen in one or two years, but the University has a consistent history of making small, incremental changes that, taken over the long term, amount to a huge change. Slowly but surely, you’re going to see benefits decrease for University staff.”

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