The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee should be commended for approving a much-needed raise for state employees — and for including University of Wisconsin System employees.
Regrettably, the governor’s budget proposal did not include UW System employees, instead relegating them to a separate merit-pay system controlled by the UW Board of Regents.
That separate arrangement made no sense: The raise is needed to adjust salaries that have lagged the rate of inflation, not to reward individual excellence. In complex organizations, excellence is less an individual accomplishment than a social accomplishment that depends on many people working together. And without fair and objective indicators of merit, supervisors will use their discretion to play favorites and punish dissidents.
As the Joint Finance Committee recognized, it is therefore better to fund raises for UW System employees through the normal compensation system.
Nevertheless, members of my union, which represents faculty and academic staff at UW-Madison and UW-Extension, have four major concerns about the approved raise.
First, as the State Journal reported, state funding only covers 70 percent of the approved raise. The rest was supposed to be funded by a tuition hike on students, but the likely extension of the tuition freeze makes that impossible.
My union supports the tuition freeze. But together with AFT-Wisconsin members across the state, we have consistently called on the Legislature to fund the freeze, meaning it should increase public spending to compensate for lost tuition revenue. Without additional public spending, the tuition freeze will reduce the quality as well as the cost of public education.
Second, we are concerned that increased health insurance costs for state employees will likely offset or exceed the approved pay raise. Having rejected the governor’s ill-advised self-insurance plan for state workers, the Joint Finance Committee intends to save millions in other ways, including employee benefit changes.
What the Legislature may give to UW System employees in a raise, it may take away in higher premiums, co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. That’s on top of higher pension and health care premiums that started in 2011 under Act 10.
Third, we are concerned about how the raise will be distributed among UW System employees. The State Journal reported that “a separate legislative committee will decide how to distribute the UW System raises.” My union would like to see salary increases maximized for the lowest paid university employees instead of a winner-take-all campus.
Fourth, we think a modest pay raise for UW System employees — especially one eaten up by higher health insurance costs — doesn’t make up for the elimination of collective bargaining rights and the recent weakening of tenure and shared governance.
Some chancellors in the UW System think a pay raise will discourage UW employees from leaving for greener pastures at other universities. But the most effective way to foster loyalty to the University of Wisconsin is to give employees a modicum of job security, a voice in their workplace, and a share in the institution’s power.