Staff Senate Applauds Progress Made to Enhance Employee Pay and Benefits
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Paying employees at rates that are attractive, fair and sustainable is a priority for the University of Arkansas. All four officers of the university's Staff Senate meet monthly with Chancellor Joe Steinmetz to collaborate on ways to continue the progress made in recent years to enhance pay and benefits for university employees.
"Improving wages for employees across campus is a complex, long-term effort but we've greatly improved the situation in the last few years," said Trish Watkins, chair of the University of Arkansas Staff Senate. "And we're currently working on several ideas to continue to incrementally increase compensation, especially for classified employees."
Moving the oversight of classified staff lines to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education in 2017 was a step in the right direction, allowing the potential for permanent increases in classified pay.
Earlier this year, the university participated in a statewide working group that developed language for a Higher Education Classification and Compensation act and proposed a new pay plan that was approved during the last legislative session.
The university worked with a position specialist to help analyze classified salaries based on several criteria including priority needs, turnover rates and the job market in the region — leading to a strategy to increase compensation utilizing current options. The budget for the current fiscal year, funding a classified pay plan, added an additional $1.4 million for classified employees.
"While there isn't a quick or easy fix, working with our Staff Senate and Faculty Senate representatives — the primary employee advocacy groups on our campus — we continue to make incremental improvements and advocate for higher wages for our employees," said Chancellor Joe Steinmetz. "Recently, we've made significant progress, especially in increasing the salaries of positions earning less than $30,000 a year, classified positions for the most part."
The U of A and the higher education group worked successfully to increase labor market rates and reduce the number of classified pay grades with positions that fall below the grade midpoint of $30,000, decreasing the number of those grades of positions from nine to five in one year.
"In addition to continuing our work to enhance employee compensation, we're always looking for ways to preserve and improve the benefits our employees receive," Watkins said. "I'm not sure everyone knows that the university's tiered structure for healthcare premiums and parking means that healthcare premiums are lowest for those making the least and increase proportionately as salary increases, while staff who earn less than $40,000 a year pay 45% less for parking than employees with higher salaries. Those were ideas that the Staff Senate developed and successfully advocated for, leading to approval from university administrators."
Chancellor Steinmetz also made the decision to preserve a 90% tuition discount for all of the U of A's full-time active benefits-eligible employees, and a 50% discount for their spouses and eligible dependent children.
"As employees, we appreciate leadership decisions like these that are made with the best interests of our staff and faculty in mind," Watkins said.
The mission of the Staff Senate and its elected senators is to represent staff to University of Arkansas leadership. Staff senators advocate for staff in the areas of compensation, benefits, safety, parking and other workplace issues.
About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 3 percent of colleges and universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.
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