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UW-Madison announced Thursday it will give employees a 4 percent cumulative pay raise.

UW-Madison is moving to give faculty and staff a 4 percent pay increase in the next year, the university announced Thursday.

It would be the first time since 2015 that UW-Madison employees have gotten across-the-board raises, and the largest wage increase of its kind in more than a decade, according to the university.

Plans call for the first 2 percent pay increase to take effect in July and the second 2 percent in January 2019.

They also call for additional wage increases for some of the system’s lowest-earning employees: those making less than $15 an hour.

Kevin Niemi, chairman of an executive committee representing more than 9,000 university academic staffers who work in classroom settings, research and other roles, said they feel “relief” at the news.

“It’s been a number of years since we had a raise of this size,” Niemi said.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the raises will help the university retain talented employees.

UW System Regents consistently have identified employee pay as a concern, and UW leaders “have said the comparatively low salaries offered by UW institutions can make recruitment and retention of faculty difficult, especially for those in high-demand fields,” according to a 2017 memo prepared by the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal bureau.

Before taking effect, the plan must get formal approval from the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations. Co-chairmen of that committee, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate President Roger Roth, R-Appleton, are working to schedule a meeting to take up the plan “in the coming weeks,” Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously in June to move ahead, in the 2017-19 state budget, with pay raises throughout state government, including the UW System. For the universities, details of how the raises would be implemented were left to university officials and the employment committee.

Praise from president

At the time, UW System President Ray Cross thanked the committee for “the largest investment the state has made in UW employees in more than a decade.” The budget paid for 70 percent of the cost of the university raises. Increases in tuition for out-of-state residents are covering the remainder, UW-Madison spokesman John Lucas said.

UW System officials could not be reached Thursday to discuss plans for implementing the raises system-wide.

At UW-Madison, staff wages have not kept pace with inflation in recent years, which — combined with other factors — has dampened morale, Niemi said.

“If you’re not happy in your job, it’s going to impact your performance,” Niemi said. “That ultimately does impact the students.”

Eligibility criteria for the increases include that faculty and staff must have been in their current positions by Jan. 8, “must be meeting performance expectations as identified in their last performance evaluations,” and must complete campus sexual harassment prevention training, according to information provided by the university.

The university also plans an added slate of pay raises for employees making less than $15 an hour. Beginning with hours worked on Jan. 21, any such employee designated as university staff will see an increase of up to 50 cents an hour, for a total pay rate not to exceed $15 an hour.

UW-Madison also reached a tentative agreement with campus employees of the Building Trades, the only certified bargaining unit on campus, calling for a 1.26-percent cost-of-living wage increase.

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Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.