Monday, May 4, 2009

Update on furloughs and health benefits for faculty and pro-staff

Here is an update on behalf of the Nevada Faculty Alliance on the news breaking from Carson City last night on the state budget. As you have now doubt by now read, the joint "money committees" of the state legislature have reached agreements on salaries and benefits for state employees.

In both areas, they opted -- as we had all hoped and urged -- not to follow the Governor's recommendations.

On the issue of PEBP health coverage, which NFA has made a priority, it appears that the goal we set at the start of the legislative session has been achieved. The draconian recommendations made by the SAGE commission (including elimination of all health benefits for retirees and steep cuts in state support for active workers which would have triped our premiums) have been rejected. Instead, the legislature has adopted the proposal made by the PEBP board, which will still represent an increase in out of pocket costs (in slightly higher premiums, deductibles, and drug costs).

There is still the matter of increasing the number of years of service required to qualify for benefits in retirement, which would be increased from 5 to 15 -- making it difficult for us to recruit mid-career faculty and impacting those who came to UNLV for the latter part of their career. We are still hoping to get this relatively small issue revised to 10 years.

Still, this is in all likelihood, the best outcome we could have hoped for given the circumstances and one that I had worried we would not achieve. That we seem to be on the verge of achieving it (presuming the rest of the budget passes and is either approved by the Governor or passed a second time to override a veto!) is the result of the efforts of all of you and so many other public service workers who have been so engaged in communicating with the legislature.

And a great deal of the credit for making all that happen goes to our colleague and NFA lobbyist Jim Richardson, who put together an effective "Public Service Workers' Benefits Coalition" with other public service workers' advocacy groups and who drew on his years of expertise on both the public service workers' health insurance system and the state legislature.

On the issue of salaries, the situation is much less clear as of this moment. The state legislature appears to have recommended a one-day-a-month unpaid furlough for all state workers (which amounts to a salary cut of 4.6%) and this will apply to classified workers at UNLV -- and possibly pro-staff.

But since we as faculty are not state workers, it would appear we fall into the other category of education employees. In that category, the state legislature is going cut an even 4% from what are known as the "distributive" accounts that give money to county school districts to pay their salary pool. So, and at this point I'm guessing, the state will cut by 4% the amount that is given to NSHE to pay our salaries but will leave to the Board of Regents to implement that cut.

The Board of Regents handbook (chapter 5, section 4, article 5) lays out the conditions for a furlough. Under ordinary conditions, this cannot be done without one year's notice. The extraordinary conditions to bypass this requirement would necessitate the Chancellor, Board and institution presidents to confer with faculty, and NFA will be working very actively with the Faculty Senate at UNLV to ensure that if there is an attmpt these provisions are adhered to.

We will likely find out later this week or early next if the Board will seek to go this route. (This will likely depend on the final outcome of the NSHE base budget, which will be closed later this week, and specifically on whether or not the state opts to sidestep the requirements imposed by the federal stimulus money of maintaining either 2006 levels of funding or maintaining the same proportion of the state budget for higher education).

In any event, it is too soon at this point to know if faculty will be asked to take an unpaid furlough for the coming year and it is too soon to know at what level (system, university) that will be implemented -- and above all, whether or not the Board or university will seek to implement that furlough. For now, faculty should stay aware -- please look for updates from the NFA via email and on the site.

And please encourage others to do so as well -- and ask others to join the fight by joining the NFA!

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