New Hours of Work Policy generates questions and concern from faculty and staff

Kathryn Nicolai, Investigative News Editor

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This past August, Human Resources (HR) notified all staff of updates to the Staff Handbook regarding hours of work policies. These changes were intended to be implemented Nov. 1, 2017, but will be delayed to Jan. 2, 2018. There has been various feedback to the policy updates.

The effective date for the new policies was changed from Nov. 1 to Jan. 2 for two reasons, according to Mike Ferlazzo, Director of Media Relations. The first is so that the changes may align with the new calendar year and a new academic semester. The second reason is that it “allows those affected more time to acclimate to the changes, and allows them to take advantage of our current practices during the holiday season,” Ferlazzo said.

The changes mostly apply to non-exempt workers who are paid hourly. The updates address overtime pay, premium holiday pay, compensatory time, shift differential/call-in pay, timekeeping, and recording hours of work.

According to Director for HR Services Marcia Cooney, the last previous update to the Staff Handbook was January 2014, “but only following a cursory review at a very high level,” which allowed for changes to one policy that amended a contradiction for different policies. Cooney reported that this caused differing interpretations of policy and inconsistencies in how workers were being paid.

“Historically, our policies around how employees are compensated have been inconsistent across the University, inequitable, unfair and, in some cases, inconsistent with federal guidelines,” Ferlazzo said. “These changes address those issues, and ensure our employees are getting paid appropriately for the hours they work.”

According to the Hours of Work Policy Updates document sent to staff this August, conversation with “a variety of individuals and small groups helped inform these updates, including the APC/SSPC, HR Roundtable, Operations & Management Group (OMG), General Counsel and departmental leadership such as Facilities and Public Safety.”

A letter dated September 25 and addressed to President John Bravman was signed by 152 faculty members and articulates discontent with the new changes.

“The new Hours of Work Policy casts the University in a negative light as it adopts cost and labor controls that threaten to reduce the income of many non-exempt employees who have come to rely on the existing overtime pay structure to provide a necessary portion of their livelihood,” the letter states.

The letter consists of 18 policy specific questions and one overall question that addresses “an often stated concern”: “Is the university moving to replace Facilities and/or other non-exempt workers with sub-contracted workers?”

The letter requests a response to posed questions and for the new policy “to be shelved.”

In regard to overtime pay, eligibility will shift from 40 hours paid within a defined work week, to 40 hours worked. Therefore, if an individual takes a vacation day within a work week, these hours are not eligible to be counted towards the potentiality of overtime pay.

“Vacation days are earned by workers and constitute as substitutes for a regular day. It is as if the worker were there,” the letter signed by faculty states. The letter highlights a disparity between the vacation day policy and the justification for elimination of overtime for hours paid as well as the new policy’s inability to “address the loss of family/home time that everyone deserves and should have.”

The current premium and holiday pay policy for non-exempt workers who work on a federal holiday is “triple-time pay: double-time pay for the hours worked and an additional day off.” With the implementation of the new policies, the University will no longer provide an additional day off.

The letter asks, “Why eliminate the extra day off…?”, as this elimination equates to “a loss of benefits” and “further deprives Bucknell non-exempt employees of their own time outside of work.”

The University also plans to stop the practice of paying employees with compensatory time, which is exchanging overtime/premium pay for time off. The Hours of Work Policy Updates document states that “federal and state law take the position that employees cannot choose to forfeit their right to overtime pay beyond the week during which it was earned.”

Premium pay will continue for urgent/emergency call-in situations as well as pay for colleagues working evening and night shifts.

The Hours of Work Policy Updates document also anticipates a new time tracking tool to be implemented in April 2018 to assist employees in providing the most accurate time record. In recognizing that the U.S. Department of Labor and Hour Division “allows just about any form of complete and accurate record keeping,” the letter asks what the point is of imposing “a system that is objected to by what is most likely the majority of the non-exempt staff?”

Other questions about policy stated in the letter address work schedules, rest time, alternative work arrangements, rest breaks, remote access/mobile phones, laptops, travel time, attendance, and punctuality.

Cooney notes that the policy changes have received “a wide range of reactions” and Human Resources has “done our best to be transparent” through a series of staff informational sessions and forums.

Meetings held by Human Resources have “effectively helped to educate, dispel myths, answer questions, and provide additional information about the updates and why they’re important to Bucknell,” Ferlazzo said.

Ken Ogawa, Associate Vice President for Facilities and Sustainability said, “The change to calculating overtime based on hours worked each week is the single largest impact for Facilities non-exempt staff.”

A non-exempt Facilities worker who preferred to remain anonymous said the changes could affect their overall income, as well as the way they manage their vacation time.

The Facilities worker noted that numerous non-exempt workers plan their vacation time around their workload, which often has time restraints that cause employees to work overtime some days, but not others. The Facilities worker also expressed concern that the new policy would not credit this overtime if a vacation day was taken during the same week.

Additionally, the Facilities worker said that workers will no longer be able to receive double-pay when they work on Sundays, but will only be paid time and a half. “If I or one of my co-workers is called in for an emergency on Sunday and then falls ill through the week, needing a sick day, that Sunday time was now worked at straight time,” they said.

“Human Resources has done a lot of good things for people, and a lot of good things have come out of there, but this change in policy is not one of them. These policies lower the wages of the blue collar worker and in turn lower morale,” the Facilities worker added. “With lower morale comes lower productivity and lower quality, which would lead you to ask the question, Is this really worth it?”

Professor of geography Paul Susman, who is among faculty who signed the letter, hopes that the consideration of the questions posed in the letter will “lead to a walking back of the new policy to ensure that the hourly workers do not face a loss of income that they rely on and/or their own free time outside of Bucknell and that we can work together to ensure reasonable flexibility for all, including office staff.”

Professor of education and Director of the Teaching & Learning Center Sue Ellen Henry also signed the letter. Henry surmises that the policy changes prioritize standardization and efficiency over flexibility and employee discretion.

“These changes have been couched in the language of fairness and equity. I believe these are important aims that employee policies should achieve,” Henry said. “And if new systems jeopardize other workplace values such as motivation, trust, and employee judgment, then these values need to be reconsidered as important components in addition to fairness and equity.”

Another faculty member who signed the letter, Professor of English Michael Drexler, believes that it is a problem that University staff does not make an income high enough to live in Lewisburg, Pa., and argued that a reduction of opportunities for overtime augments this problem.

“Regardless of whether Bucknell pays above average wages, we should aim even higher to help our staff enjoy the many benefits of living close to work, in a community with strong local schools, and affording access to the many resources and recreational opportunities that faculty families enjoy on campus and in town,” Drexler said.

“As it stands now, I have learned through many conversations with hourly workers across campus, just how demoralizing the new policy is,” Susman said. “I also hope that the university does not squander the enormous reservoir of goodwill of the hourly workers that is reflected in them going above and beyond, time and time again, and that keeps the university running and beautiful.”

According to Ferlazzo, President Bravman is “publically committed” to giving the letter “his full attention” and will respond to it “in early November following the fall Board of Trustees meeting, which recently took place on campus and concluded on Friday.”

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