Friday, May 16, 2008

UA Classified Employees to Get COLA

The University of Arkansas announced today that it will, in fact, be able to go ahead with the classified pay increase plan originally outlined earlier this month. The plan will provide classified employees with a 2 percent cost of living increase and merit increases averaging 1 percent. This is good news for UA employees facing rising costs for groceries and gas, as well as increased costs next year for the UA health insurance plan and for campus parking fees.

Earlier this week, the university had adjusted its salary plan in anticipation that the proposal would not be approved by the state in time for the university to develop a budget proposal for fiscal year 2008-09. That revised plan, announced May 13 and calling for larger merit raises but no cost of living adjustment, has been put aside in favor of the original plan as a result of today’s developments.

“This is a positive action that will ensure equitable increases for classified staff to help alleviate some of the burden they face from rapidly rising cost of living pressures,” said G. David Gearhart, chancellor-elect of the university. “We continued throughout the week to discuss the possibility of implementing our original plan, and we’re greatly appreciative of the state’s efforts to clarify the matter and for deferring the decision to us regarding salary increases. While it is regrettable that some confusion has ensued due to the different plans on the table during this difficult budgeting process, in the end we’re happy to be able to move forward with the proposal we initially sought as having the most significant impact upon our people.”

The merit portion of the plan calls for a half-percent increase for classified staff who received a satisfactory performance evaluation during the previous year, a 1 percent increase for those rated above average, and a 1.5 percent raise for staff whose performance has exceeded expectations.

If approved by the board, the 2 percent cost of living adjustments will go into effect July 1. Merit increases will follow either on Oct. 1 or on a later date coinciding with the anniversary of the employee’s date of hire, to remain consistent with the current annual cycle for performance adjustments.

This plan does not affect non-classified faculty and staff. Proposed raises for non-classified employees will come from a 2 percent pool, but individual increases will vary and will be based entirely on merit.

“We’re very pleased to hear of this development, and we appreciate Dr. Gearhart keeping the staff senate and university community informed,” said Paul Bixby, chair of the university’s Staff Senate. “We’re just happy to be back where we started.”

Stephen Smith, President of AFSCME Local 965, expressed his appreciation for the return to the original classified pay plan. “We are pleased that university administrators proposed this improved pay plan for classified employees and continued to work diligently to secure state approval until it was authorized,” he said. “We particularly appreciate the persistent efforts of Chancellor-elect Gearhart, Vice Chancellors Don Pederson and Richard Hudson, and Associate Vice Chancellor Barbara Taylor. We look forward to a cooperative and productive relationship with the administration to strengthen our institution and advance the best interests of faculty, staff and students.”

“We’ve chosen to put our people first, albeit within our stretched means in the coming year,” said Gearhart in previously announcing this plan. “While new programs that can enhance our quality and service to the state are critical – and we hope to address those as soon as our funding outlook improves – what makes a great university are its people. In order to continue to recruit and retain the best faculty and staff to serve our students, they need to be our priority even when difficult budget choices need to be made.”

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