University Staff Plan Attracts a Range of Employees During Open Enrollment

January 7, 2010 — The number of University of Virginia employees making the switch to the University Staff plan during the fall open enrollment period increased sharply from the year before, according to University Human Resources.

A total of 159 people who were classified staff or administrative and professional faculty switched to University Staff status, an increase of about 60 percent more than the previous year. In 2008, 96 employees elected to join the plan.

The number of classified employees who joined University Staff is 122, up from 83 in 2008. Thirty-seven administrative and professional faculty members switched, compared to 13 the previous year.

Those who switched represent a wide spectrum of the University's work force, said Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer.

For instance, 20 of the new enrollees have worked at U.Va. 20 or more years. Of those who have worked at U.Va. five to 10 years, 72 enrolled. Of those with between 10 and 20 years, 31 enrolled.

An additional 36 workers hired less than five years ago enrolled in 2009.

Employees hired as of July 1, 2006, were automatically designated as University Staff. The rest of the classified staff and administrative and professional faculty members were given the choice of retaining their status or moving to University Staff status during open enrollment periods in the last two falls.

The bulk of the employees who elected to join University Staff came from classified pay bands 3, 4 and 5, according to James Traub, restructuring project manager.

On the lower end of the pay scale, 42 new enrollees became eligible for the supplemental benefit credit. The $300 supplement can help pay for parking or health care costs, Carkeek said.

Melody Bianchetto, who became budget director in 1998 – about two years after coming to U.Va. – switched from administrative and professional faculty to University Staff because she said the leave plan is more beneficial for her. She gets 28 days of leave, as opposed to 22, and she doesn't lose any time she doesn't use, she said. She also stays in the Optional Retirement Plan.

"I looked carefully at both plans. I felt like this is the right system for me and for U.Va.," Bianchetto said.

Missy Brads, a senior budget analyst in Bianchetto's office, was a 10-year classified employee who also made the switch. What stood out for her, she said, was the leave plan. She found she was always losing sick leave and preferred having the combined leave, instead of having to keep track of separate annual, sick and family/personal leave in the classified system.

She and Bianchetto both pointed out that University Staff who are exempt from the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act don't have to record time taken off that's less than four hours. In contrast, classified staff must record time off if it's more than 15 minutes.

Brads and Bianchetto also like the pay-for-performance feature – even though it's not funded yet, due to budget constraints. Bianchetto said she was already accustomed to it, from the faculty system, but for Brads, it will be a welcome aspect.

Brads also said she likes having the opportunity to move up in her current job, rather than having to apply for a higher position, as often happens in the classified system,

Carkeek said she was excited about the increased number who signed up and sees it as a positive sign. She noted the attractive features of not losing leave time and being able to get a payout for half the cash value of a certain number of hours not used and carried over from the year before. In the University Staff Plan, no one loses leave days, she said.

Brads was a member of the Human Resources task force that worked on the plan and said she knew how hard everyone worked on crafting it.

By state law, the University must offer open enrollment periods at least every other year. No decision has yet been made on whether there will be another open enrollment this year.

— By Anne Bromley