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Job and salary study for UW staff brings new pay ranges and some worries
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Job and salary study for UW staff brings new pay ranges and some worries

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A yearslong project studying the pay levels and job titles across the University of Wisconsin System is wrapping up and thousands of employees will next week learn the new salary range of the position they hold.

UW officials have promised that no employee will see their base pay decrease. In fact, at least at UW-Madison, if an employee’s pay falls below the new salary range for their updated job title, they will see a pay increase starting Nov. 7, the same day that updated job titles take effect.

Still, any time an employer tinkers with job titles and compensation levels, there’s bound to be concern from some individuals about the immediate effects of such changes. Some UW employees also worry about what the revisions mean long term for recruitment and retention of employees.

But to those leading the “Title and Total Compensation” project, the joint effort by the System and UW-Madison will help campuses eventually develop a long-range plan to address pay problems. With the help of a consultant, project staff studied the current compensation structures for university and academic staff in addition to the 1,200 job titles across the System.

UW campuses can easily compare professor pay with peer schools, but less is known about the competitiveness of UW salaries for other staff who perform a wide range of duties, such as advising students, maintaining campus buildings and managing research grants.

“Updating job titles and pay ranges is a good business practice that is long overdue at the UW System, as it’s been about thirty years since we last did this,” interim System President Tommy Thompson said in a statement. “A complete review of titles and pay ranges across UW System for non-faculty staff ensures we are consistent across the System and in the labor market.”

UW-Oshkosh employee Crystal Mueller worries about the long-term consequences of the project, particularly at the regional UW campuses where some employees teach and also hold mid-level management roles. Mueller, a 15-year university employee, holds the title of “senior lecturer 2” and also leads the writing center.

Mueller said her new title, lecturer, doesn’t capture the work she does as writing center director. Human resources staff told Mueller, she said, that she cannot have a title with “director” in it unless she leaves her teaching role or supervises more employees.

“The ‘lecturer’ title is very bare bones and does not reflect the work I do,” she said. “It is insulting but it is also inaccurate.”

Reducing all lecturers to the same title eliminates the years of work employees have put in to move up the ladder, Mueller said. The new structure for lecturers, who already make far less than professors, will stand in contrast to how faculty teaching lines operate, with professors being promoted from assistant to associate to full professor.

UW officials say that even if a job no longer has levels, employees can be recognized through progression within the salary range or through promotion to a different job with a higher salary range.

UW-Madison

The United Faculty and Academic Staff, a longtime union on the UW-Madison campus that lacks collective bargaining powers, surveyed UW-Madison employees who are receiving updated job titles. UFAS heard concerns similar to Mueller’s, along with worries about a general lack of transparency about the project.

“It is totally unclear how these salary ranges were made up in the first place,” said Anya Paretskaya, a lecturer in the sociology department at UW-Madison who leads the union’s compensation and benefits committee.

UW-Madison’s project website notes that salary data came from compensation surveys of peer organizations around the country.

More than 98% of employees have talked with their manager or human resources representative to determine the appropriate job title. One discussion point missing from those conversations, however, is salary information. UW-Madison will publish its new salary data on Monday.

UFAS earlier this year submitted a public records request for updated salary ranges but UW-Madison denied the request, saying that the documents were still in draft form, union co-president Jason Lee said. That’s a major concern to him because he said employees in recent months had to sign a paper agreeing to their updated title without knowing their new salary range.

Introducing salary into the discussions about job titles “may result in duty inflation, bias, and an inaccurate assessment,” UW-Madison’s website explains. And an employee’s signature doesn’t necessarily mean they agree with their new title but indicates that they have reviewed it.

Signing off on a position description was at the discretion of unit-level HR staff, not a central campus-level requirement, UW-Madison spokesperson John Lucas said.

UW-Madison also pushed back against the idea of the project lacking transparency. Employees for the first time will be able to search an online “library” to look at jobs, titles and salaries.

“This increases transparency and will allow employees to identify career growth opportunities,” Lucas said.

UW-Madison encourages employees with questions to continue talking with their manager or HR representative. Employees can also file an appeal by Dec. 31.

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