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Laid-off staff won’t go quietly

While President Judy Genshaft has guaranteed tenured faculty members job security during budget reductions, other USF employees face a slash of 450 positions, about 70 of which are filled.

Economic belt-tightening has left approximately 34 staff members jobless and forced others to relocate or take demotions, said Michael Stephens, director of USF Human Resources.

Some employees disagreed with the University’s decisions and have filed grievances against the school.

The controversial layoffs occurred with the University still entrenched in negotiations with the staff union over the terms of the union contract.

William McClelland, USF employee and president of the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said he contests the actions taken by the administration.

“We have a collective bargaining agreement – our union contract – and part of the agreement addresses layoff procedures and job security,” he said. “We have a disagreement with the University about how they have been implementing these layoffs.”

Many of McClelland’s objections pertain to issues covered by the collective bargaining agreement between the school and the union. The terms of this agreement have been under negotiation for more than two years.

McClelland said he regularly receives complaints from staff members who feel they were unjustly laid off, demoted or relocated. Among his chief concerns is the misuse of the retention point system, a method of laying off the newest and least productive employees first, and the inability to satisfactorily relocate laid-off employees.

“Many of the employees that are being laid off are long-term employees,” he said. “Almost a half a dozen have worked (for USF) for 20 years.”

Stephens said he disagreed with the notion that human resources failed its obligation to laid-off employees.

“My staff at the Human Resources Office has been working nonstop, tirelessly, until we are able to find whatever gainful placement opportunities for employees who have been affected by layoffs,” he said.

The reality is that some employees will not find additional employment at USF during budget reductions, Stephens said.

“As a result of budget cuts, certain positions went away,” he said. “Possibilities (for relocation) have been limited as a result of trying to find those dollars to meet our mandate.”

Some employees had to take large pay cuts, as much as 30 percent in some cases, to keep their jobs, McClelland said.

The exact number of employees taking pay cuts or relocation is unknown at this time since the employees have a notice period before they must decide to accept another position, Stephens said.

McClelland also criticized the University for failing to involve AFSCME in budget priority discussions before decisions were made.

“They certainly didn’t consult our organization,” he said. “It was announced to us as a done deal.”

At a time when dollar amounts are the bottom line, McClelland said that administrators may have lost sight of the human face that accompanies each job.

“This is real suffering going on by real individuals,” he said. “It’s not all just pie charts.”

McClelland knows firsthand. His position was recently eliminated after 30 years of employment. However, he was notified that he will have a placement opportunity elsewhere on campus.

Employees file grievancesIn response to layoffs, some employees have individually filed grievances against USF. While the cases pertain only to individual employees, union members will be backed by the AFSCME.

Haydee Sevilla, a former administrative clerk, filed a grievance against the University after she received a layoff notice in 2007. She argues that the University did not make a reasonable effort to place her – after 17 years of employment – based on the retention point system. She seeks a position of equal employment without loss of pay.

Human resources denied her request and stated that regardless of retention points, she “could not displace another employee” because she lacked “the requisite skills and competencies to perform temporarily assigned duties,” according to a memorandum.

Sevilla requested a hearing with a neutral arbitrator, a right provided by the collective bargaining agreement, which will occur in July.

McClelland said he hopes the grievances will force the University to reevaluate past layoffs and rehire employees who were unjustly released.

“If we are successful, it may force the University to revisit the layoffs they are conducting now in order to be in compliance with what we think their obligation is,” he said.

Rehiring those employees and providing lost wages would certainly hurt the University in a time of budget crisis, McClelland said, but immediately changing the way layoffs are implemented may reduce the burden.