Civil service vote marks important step for K-State classified employees

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From Nov. 19-22, classified K-State employees will be voting as to whether or not they should leave the State Civil Service System.

The Civil Service Act, labeled as a “merit system” by federal law, is a state-run system that gives classified university employees – employees whose positions have been organized by classifications – due process rights, as well as protects them from random discipline and dismissal. Classified employees perform services across campus such as food service work in the dining halls, custodial work, building maintenance, and groundskeeping.

Because the Civil Service System is state-run, all university employment decisions are made by the state legislature. Issues such as salary ranges and wage increases are set in motion by the director of personnel services within the Kansas Department of Administration. With the approval of the state governor and independent of the wishes of the universities and its employees, the director of personnel services can, at any time, modify classification groupings and certain job duties of classified employees.

This absolute control has led to a call for reform from the classified employee community, as well as a development in alternative options to the Civil Service System. The result of the vote will determine whether the classified employees stick with the Civil Service System, or re-title themselves as University Support Staff, a system in which employment decisions will be handled by K-State instead of the state legislature. The new service plan has been put together by the Alternative Service Committee, a group who completed the research necessary to create a plan that would allow for a switch to USS. Alternative Service, as it is called, is an undeniably more flexible system that will allow for classified employees to have more of a voice about their future employment at K-State.

In 2005, the Kansas state legislature passed what is now referred to as Statute 76-715a, a bill that allows Kansas State Board of Regents institutions of higher education to convert classified positions from State Civil Service to University Support Staff. That year also marked the beginning of the Alternative Service Committee. In 2007, the state legislature implemented a new pay plan for classified employees that would adjust to the demands of the market at the time. Due to this plan, ASC, doing research for a plan for USS since 2005, decided to table its efforts and see if the state would fully fund and implement the new pay plan. The state legislature failed to do so. In September 2012, due to the state’s failed implementation of said pay plan, ACS reconvened and decided to move forward with developing a plan for USS.

“The most troubling issue about state civil service is that the state legislature has not fulfilled their obligations to fund a pay plan for classified employees,” Carol Marden, a public service administrator at Counseling Services and chair of the ASC, said. “The state [has] tied our hands, as well as the hands of the university administration.”

On June 15, 2008, the state decided to stop paying longevity bonuses – bonuses received after having given ten years of service to the state – to classified employees hired after that date. This decision has resulted in inequity among classified employees, as some still receive the bonus and others do not.

“Many classified employees across campus have not seen a raise since July of 2008,” Marden said.

Marden said that under the USS option the K-State administration, along with USS leadership and the approval of the Kansas Board of Regents, will have the authority to set compensation and create a new employee evaluation system, which oftentimes determines bonuses and additional pay. Salary decisions will be made at the university level, which will better represent the number of state employees and be more flexible.

“Additionally, by statute, positions that convert to USS shall retain all health, flexible, leave and retirement benefits provided under the state civil service system,” Marden said. “The implementation of USS shall not cause a salary reduction or layoff of any classified employee, and nothing in the conversion of positions shall affect the rights of the employees.”

There have been critiques that have come out against the Alternative Service Committee’s plan for USS. The American Federation of Teachers Local 6400, a union that represents many of the classified staff at K-State, has urged many of its members to vote to remain in the Civil Service System. AFT Local 6400 members said they worry that the Alternative Service Committee may not be entirely representative of certain classified employees, such as low-wage workers.

“Regarding
Alternative Service, the administration is asking classified employees to ‘trust them,’”
Bryan Pfeifer, organizing coordinator for the AFT Local 6400, said in a AFT Local 6400 statement on Civil Service Protections. “Under a new ‘Alternative Service System,’ current Civil Service protections would be left in the administration’s hands.”

Since changing to University Support Staff would result in K-State determining the pay plan of classified employees, the university would have more freedom to give higher pay to particular individuals, as opposed to particular positions. Market adjustments for pay that are approved by the state legislature will no longer automatically apply. The AFT Local 6400 statement expressed worries that this freedom would prevent Local 6400 members from having

guaranteed
protection from the administration playing favorites with certain employees when setting pay scales.

“Another aspect of concern is that President Schulz said during a Town Hall Meeting on Nov. 4 is that, under a new USS structure, suggested “merit” raises will have to be funded by student tuition and fees,” Pfeifer said.

AFT Local 6400 members are also worried about the accuracy of the actual voting process. The Nov. 19-22 voting process by the administration has minimal transparency, as there is no third party non-neutral monitor(s), which could call into question the overall accuracy of the voting results.

“The lack of oversight from an unbiased third party, as well as the use of a voting method that has been known to uniquely disenfranchise low-income voters as a group is very concerning,” Kyle Tomlinson, an organizer for AFT Local 6400, said. “I would say that this is most definitely not a foolproof voting system.”

Regardless of the outcome of the vote, this process marks a big step for classified employees at K-State.

“The vote in November is very important for classified employees because they get to have a voice in their employment,” Marden said. “Regardless of how they will vote, most employees are glad that they finally have a voice.”

The result of the Civil Service vote will impact many in and around, both the city and the university.

“Many classified workers are long-time residents of Manhattan and are diverse in every way,” Pfeifer said. “This vote will have long lasting implications for the larger Manhattan community.”

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