Event announcement (for background): 

“Beginning in July 2013, how will the university:
–Balance “internal equity, market competition, and cost-of-living” all at the same time?
–Bargain with the University?
–Ensure equitable pay for all workers on campus?
–Guarantee cost-of-living wages?

In order to address these and other questions: The TAA, UFAS, and AFSCME locals 171 & 2412 have organized a panel discussion around the project that’s going to impact every worker on campus: the Human Resources Design Project. While numerous information sessions have been held to update people as the project develops, this is the only opportunity to put it under a critical lens. The HRDP may be historic, but this event will be singular! Join UW-Madison faculty from the departments of Curriculum and Instruction and Sociology and members from the TAA, UFAS, AFSCME 171 and 2412, and others to engage the issues that will affect us most. Come with questions and leave with answers.

image courtesy of the event’s facebook page


[comments collected by Megan Massino, to the best of her hearing/processing]

format: panelists give 5 minute presentations, consecutively, followed by Q&A.

Pam Oliver (faculty, Sociology)

5 minute version of her College of Letters & Science “staff climate” committee presentation. Climate committee identified 3 ares of focus around the relationship between departments and college administration.

1. Problems with hierarchies (class issues)
From the vantage point of “elite faculty” there is a privilege problem–a lack of knowledge about what staff does, job descriptions.

2. Problems with interpersonal relations that make your life miserable on the job (often related to #1!)

3. Problems with systems
Often hierarchies make it difficult to work out problems with system (much seems to stem from #1). Staff do not feel safe taking issues up through the system. Issues with governance and control. Issues of reporting: the difference between those who are accountable for their time, vs. faculty who have less supervision.

Dave Ahrens (Wisconsin University Union)

Two potential outcomes after collective bargaining rights were essentially abolished by Governor Walker et. al.:
1. either take the high-road and continue relationships with employees, continue to respect employee rights,
2. take the low-road and exploit the abolishment of unions by severing services and labor agreements with employees

Argument: the University has taken the low road with the HR redesign.

There will be losses in compensation for future employees; no bargaining for pay and benefits; stripping of due process for areas like wrongful termination, etc.

Major shifts that have taken place in the University, since 1935, the rights and power share for employees have been undone.

Noah Feinstein (faculty, Curriculum and Instruction, Community & Environmental Sociology)

Junior faculty member and senator on junior faculty caucus. Noah asks for show of hands of faculty members at meeting. Very few hands come up.

It hasn’t always been clear what action is possible in terms of governance. There is a lot of confusion on campus about whether strategic plan/HR redesign are things that the faculty senate can approve/reject or is it just something they get to look at/comment on. There were some things in the redesign that promised incredible change–like a coherent family and medical leave policy, etc. But there were dangers, as well as opportunities. Perhaps overwhelming the opportunities. He continues to believe in the good intentions of the people involved in the process of producing it.

But…the final product is not respectful of fair governance and fair compensation.

Final thoughts: We are very much in the middle of a process–the middle of the University’s attempt to respond to new norms, to the broad adoption of language/practices from the private sector, to choose based on values. Choosing a market-based road is a value. No one is forced to do this, and it is NOT value-neutral.

Linda Meinholz (WPEC. Accountant at RSP. Labor board member. “State worker bee.”)

1. Age discrimination in the HR redesign. Trying to get rid of senior employees.
2. Higher pay for incoming employees.
3. July 2013: choice to be classified or academic staff. If choose academic staff: lose vacation. stay classified: lose chance of promotion, pigeonholed.
4. Transfer/seniority issues: new system takes away rights of seniority and loyalty.
5. This is a chance of the University to be progressive and they did not take that opportunity.

Lenora Hanson (English, TAA)

The name of the HR redesign seems very intangible. Nora has heard all over campus and in the discussions around the redesign: “This plan won’t really affect graduate students.” We are modeling our own futures on faculty and staff–the system does affect us. The system claims it is “value free”–it is NOT value free.

Throughout the document “performance” is equated with merit/equity/etc. We need to think what “performance” means in this context. “Cost of living” and “performance” adjustments–unclear which is being taken into account in any given situation. We should know precisely which other university models we are looking at–what administrative, faculty models are we comparing ourselves to? Are they appropriate for our university?

performance—market—competencies—These are the words that ABOUND in the document. As IF they are not ideologically inflected. This document is VALUE LADEN.

This is part of a larger national conversation. It affects ALL OF US.

Gary Mitchell (AFSCME, 2412)

Represents administrative support workers on campus. A key issue for workers in support is the ability to be promoted or transfered. There is a probationary period in the new design–if you transfer from a position with say Spanish & Portuguese, to say, French & Italian, from one floor to the other in Van Hise, and you’ve worked in your previous position for 20 years, you will still face a probationary period in your new position which, if you have any issues, you will lose your job. You can see from this plan has an issue incorporating seniority, loyalty, job “performance” in a fair, long-term way.

Barb Peters (AFSCME, 171)

Blue collar, technical, and security on campus. A lot of her people will be left behind on this. The language of the redesign excludes the workers–because many workers speak a variety of languages, because many workers do not have computer access. Transfers and job changes etc. rely on access to a computer.

This plan needs to be for everyone. Not just those who sit behind a computer.

Same concern as Linda–nothing in plan for existing/older workers–compensation is not in line with how long people have worked there. This plan is making people think twice before transferring, because of the probationary period on new transfers.

This plan needs to be for everyone. Not just new employees.

Chad Goldberg (faculty, Sociology, UFAS)

The plan aims to give greater flexibility. The idea is to give university/employers/mangers more autonomy. This is what management always wants, and claims is a value-free goal.

“The Cult of Flexibility”–larger social forces working nationally.

Tenure is actually under attack. Abolition of tenure at Wayne State. Proportion of tenure-track faculty shrinking. Universities are favoring precarious workers, adjuncts, temporary lecturers, non-tenure track associate instructors, etc. to shrink the amount of tenured employees.

Faculty need to RADICALLY question this cult of flexibility. Social darwinism threatens. We need to question an economic view that constantly individualizes.

Bob Lavigna (UW Administration, OHR)

About a year ago, the legislators ordered to redesign. This was an opportunity administration was hoping for for a long time. An extraordinary opportunity and challenge. “I’ve often said, nobody on campus will be completely satisfied with this system. And we’ve achieved that goal!”

We need to attract and retain top talent. “We all understand that the reason the university is a world-class university is the quality of people that work at this university.”

Emphasized that many groups worked very hard on this. Held evening sessions for those on second and third shift to attend, and those for whom English is a second language (*didn’t specify if sessions were held or information in different languages). Ample opportunity for university community to weigh in. *Recognizing that not everyone is going to be satisfied.*

“This has been called the most widespread collaboration amongst all voices on campus.” Emphasized that he doesn’t want to talk about specifics, wants us to see that everyone has already had a chance to weigh in.

“Whether or not you agree with it, you need to recognize the work put into this plan. We should honor of that work. We should thank those who gave so much of their time and energy in the best interest of the university to put together this plan to attract and retain the best talent.”


Joshua Brazee, grad student in English, served on the “benefits team” for hr redesign. 12 people on the team. 7 or 8 on team were HR. 4 were not. No faculty on team. No blue collar workers on team. No English as as second language speakers. The teams were not as diverse as it was represented. On the lists the MAJORITY of the faculty listed on committees were in the business school. As to the legislator MAKING this happen, some spontaneous “opportunity”–the UW has been begging for this for years–this redesign is the phoenix out of the ashes of the FAILED New Badger Partnership.

Response from Linda: Her management asked her NOT to go the committee meetings. But she was listed as on the committee. So she was a “phantom member” making the committee look more diverse.

Response from Dave: 1/3 were HR staff, 1/3 were administrative/managerial staff. SO: 2/3 of the committees were in the management, not those affected.

Response from Bob: most of the work team members were nominated.

Response from Noah: faculty participation in this process has been DISGRACEFUL. It’s worth asking not only what the consultative process was, but a judgement about the integrity of the recommendations process should be seen through as well.

Response from Bob: Yes, an outside consulting firm will be involved in looking at our benefits system, rather than the campus community.

Question from audience (didn’t catch name): If you put a deadline on it, doesn’t that mean you’re just going to push it through without listening to all the stakeholders?

Response from Bob: We will need to have a new classification for what is now classified staff as the legislator has changed their classification. Plus we need to continue to pay people, give benefits to people, etc. so yes, the design will be in place, needs to be in place, because of the state’s changes that take effect on July 1, 2013. Not all recommendations will immediately take effect.

Response from crowd: if you are delaying some of the recommendations, why not delay the others that people are having the most issues with???

Q&A from administrative staff member (lost name): What are the recommendations?

Response from Bob: There are 155 recommendations, so it’s not possible to get into it right here, right now.

Response from Gary: Since the administration decided that benefits needed its own study, there are MANY other areas that could use that kind of extended study. We DO NOT have to make all of these changes on July 1, 2013.

Response from Pam: We need opinion leaders to distill the major issues for us. What’s missing in the discussion is to distill the issues. Rather than send everyone to read 150 pages on a website.

…and Megan had to catch a bus so she missed the rest…

thanks very much to Adrienne Pagac, Lenora Hanson, the TAA, AFSCME, all of the panelists, and all of the audience.

More coverage/resources:

• Check out coverage on the HR Redesign in many posts on Sara Goldrick-Rab and Liam Goldrick’s blog, The Education Optimists, particularly this post about the faculty senate meeting: http://eduoptimists.blogspot.com/2012/10/just-facts.html

• Rebecca Kemble for The Progressive, “UW-Madison Takes the Low Road in Overhauling Employment Policies

One thought on “Live-Blog: Forum on the HR Redesign, UW Madison October 23 5:00pm

  1. Pingback: UW Administration releases an HR Fact Sheet to correct misconceptions in “statements floating around” | immaterial labor

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