Employees hear effects of proposed budget cuts at late-night forum
Chancellor Rebecca Blank answers questions from UW staff members in the Health Sciences Learning Center during a campus community forum designed to address a proposed state budget reduction to the UW System.
A standing room-only crowd of more than 350 employees packed the auditorium at the Health Sciences Learning Center late Wednesday night to hear information on how the state budget would impact UW–Madison.
“It’s late at night for me, but I realize this is the beginning of a shift for many of you,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank said to the crowd of third shift workers. The session was also translated for Spanish-, Tibetan-, Hmong- and Mandarin-speaking employees.
“I know how much this university relies on the work you do, often unseen during the day, and I know how hard you work for the university and for the state,” Blank said.
A capacity crowd attended the late-night session, scheduled to accommodate third-shift employees.
Many of the questions from the audience concerned how the proposed budget cut would be distributed, and whether there would be layoffs. Blank said deans and department directors will be given discretion in how the cuts are made. She said she does not expect “mass layoffs,” but added that there would be some.
“In this type of situation it is never fair if you are one of the people affected by budget cuts that you had no part in creating,” she said. “Some people will lose their jobs as part of this budget cut; that is unfortunately a fact.”
Blank noted that, under the budget proposal, employees would remain in the state pension and health care plans.
Terry Fritter, an animal research technician and member of the Classified Staff Executive Committee, speaking for himself and not CSEC, said he hopes staff members and governance groups will be consulted on the potential for cost savings ahead of any layoffs. “Workers know where the savings can be found. We should be a part of both the savings and layoff process,” Fritter said.
Ronald Mims, custodian in Facilities Planning and Management, presents a question to the chancellor.
Custodian Antonio Gatica, along with custodial supervisors Brian Petri and Boyd Peeples, said the session was a helpful start, but it was scheduled before enough specifics were known to help classified staff members understand how they would be impacted. All appreciated that the session was held with classified staff in mind.
Gatica said it had been assumed that there would be layoffs as a result of the governor’s budget, but Blank further confirmed those fears with her presentation. Petri said that their units had been operating with vacancies, short on workers and that those positions might help fill a gap. But it’s also difficult to conduct cleaning of major campus buildings while short of needed staff.
Dhonpa Dhondup, a custodian with Facilities Planning & Management, said he came to the session to learn more about how the proposed budget cut would affect the educational mission of the university.
Attendees at the forum, some of whom listened through language interpretation devices, heard details about how the budget cuts might affect their jobs.
“It will help me to explain to the other people at work what is happening, to get a deeper understanding,” Dhondup said.
“I’m a Wisconsinite and I’m very concerned about the investment in education. It’s really more than my job.”
Blank said the final outcome of the budget won’t be known until late May or early June, after the bill goes through the legislative process.
“It is the very early days and there are a number of questions we don’t yet have the answers to,” she said.
While she and other administration officials are working to reduce the $300 million two-year budget cut proposed by Gov. Scott Walker, Blank said there will be a cut due to the deficit the state is facing.
In the case of layoffs, Blank said the university would keep a registry of the individuals for when jobs become available in other units. If layoffs occur before July 1, they will be based on seniority due to state rules. If layoffs occur after July 1, when the university has the authority to adopt its own human resources system (HR Design), seniority will still be a primary factor in layoff decisions but a unit’s workforce needs will also weigh into the decision, she said.
Despite the proposed cuts, money has been set aside to increase pay for employees who are earning less than the living wage and bring them up to that level, Blank said.
“It is just too important to make sure that all our employees are at least earning a living wage,” Blank said.
The budget forums will continue today (Feb. 12) from 2:30-3:30 p.m. in Varsity Hall of Union South, and Friday (Feb. 13), from 9-10 a.m., in the Ebling Auditorium at Microbial Sciences, 1550 Linden Dr. These forums will be webcast live. See budget.wisc.edu for links.