Staff union raises concerns over autonomy plan
As the University begins the process of drafting a bill to seek increased fiscal and procedural autonomy from the Commonwealth, University administrators and the Staff Union are expressing two very different points of view concerning the potential impact of the bill on employees.
University spokesperson Carol Wood said the bill soon will go to the Commonwealth's education committee, comprised of members of the House of Delegates and Senate, for review.
"During the next year the committee will discuss the legislation, talk about it, gather information and refine it," Wood said.
Staff Union President Jan Cornell said she was unhappy with the bill because she thinks it will negatively affect staff members.
"When I read this new bill, I was appalled," she said.
Cornell said her main concerns center on the areas of human resources and procurement policies. She added that the bill will give the University power over the state in conducting grievance procedures.
"Employees will have no where to go when they need to file grievances," Cornell said. "How fair is that? Grievances should be administered by peers."
Wood disagreed, saying the new bill will not prevent employees from expressing their grievances.
"We do talk to employees all the time," Wood said. "We want to have employees in the best work environment as possible. [The new bill] will have a grievance procedure similar or exactly like the state grievance procedure. There will still be oversight and accountability."
Cornell also said she is concerned that the bill will not provide for adequate staff member raises.
Wood, however, said the University Board of Visitors currently does not have the authority to give raises, but the new bill asks the Commonwealth to give the Board the permission necessary to increase employee's wages.
"It could be much better for employees," Wood said.
Under the new bill, Cornell said workers are quasi-state employees in an institution that is "kind of private and kind of public," which she said is worrisome to state workers who work in this sector for a number of reasons, including assurance of raises.
"Workers have to be assured of something," Cornell said. "That's why they are state workers."
The University, though, still would act as a public institution under the new bill, Wood said.
"This is not walking away from the state or walking away from employees," Wood said. The University "is still a public body of the state."
However, Cornell said the bill potentially could be positive if University officials studied the impact of the bill and communicated with employees.
"It would take a lot of talk, but it could be positive," Cornell said. "I just hope it does not happen. They need to talk to employees, faculty and students first."
The University talks to its staff through employee councils and will continue to communicate with employees as the bill is refined, according to Wood.
"The Board of Visitors is very concerned that all employees are compensated in the right way and that they know that they are valued," Wood said. "As a top University, we have the responsibility to be one of the best."