Human Resource Directors and Employee Unions

September 30, 2012 | Blog

Tomorrow afternoon, the Faculty Senate at UW-Madison will hear from Bob Lavigna, the institution’s Human Resources Director. Lavigna will be discussing HR Design, a new plan I’ve covered several times recently on this blog. It’s a controversial proposal, in part because it shifts the focus on setting compensation from internal equity towards external markets.  It also reduces some of the benefits held by classified staff, who are currently unionized, and for whom perks like substantial vacation time slightly dull the pain stemming from the terrible wages.

I was therefore intrigued when this morning I delved into my Inside Higher Ed backlog of reading and found the results of a brand new national survey of HR directors and their opinions about the future directions universities need to take.  The results help to at least partially set the broader stage on which HR Design is occurring.   (Partially: the response rate for this survey is 15% and with just 324 participants, 42 of whom were at public research universities, who knows if Madison is represented.)

Here are some key highlights related to HR Design:

  • Concerns about salary equity are losing ground. Nearly 32% of HR Directors at public research universities said they are paying less attention to equity in faculty and staff salaries than they did five years ago, and just 17% are attending to those issues more often, despite the strong likelihood (given austerity practices) that inequities are growing.
  • Almost all HR Directors take a dim view of unions. Close to 90% of HR Directors at public research universities contend that unions inhibit their ability to re-deploy people and define job tasks, discourage pay for performance, and inappropriately protect poor performing employees.   Less than 1/3 of such Directors acknowledge unions’ demonstrable roles in securing better salaries and benefits and ensuring fair treatment of employees.
  • Few HR Directors seem able to ground their assessments in data. Just 28.6% of HR Directors at public research universities report that they have good data on employee performance, productivity, and satisfaction, and only 21.4% say they use such data in campus planning and policy decisions.  (Sidenote: Oh. My. God.)
  • And yet somehow, HR Directors are able to attribute low morale among employees to recent budget cuts. 74% of those at public research institutions agree that budget cuts did major damage to staff rationale, and 20-30% say their offices are unfairly blamed for cuts to employee benefits and services and even layoffs.  The frequency of these statements is twice as common at public research institutions as compared to elsewhere.

These will undoubtedly form a nice backdrop to tomorrow’s discussion. I’m hoping Lavigna keeps his statement short and sweet, to allow plenty of time for questions. I’m told this hasn’t been the case at recent campus events; for example at last week’s Academic Staff Assembly meeting the members were not given responses to ASEC’s previously issued comments.  But I’m sure tomorrow will be different– faculty like to talk, at least as much as we like to listen.

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