UF moves forward with 3 percent faculty raises

Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 5:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 5:29 p.m.

The University of Florida announced Wednesday that eligible faculty will see their salaries rise 3 percent starting in their March paychecks, but there are several caveats.

UF officials now are referring to the raise as a "retirement payment," because it offsets a 3 percent contribution the state now requires public employees to make toward their retirement plans. A pending lawsuit over the new requirement might eliminate it, at which point UF would end the payment.

Either way, UF's current practice of paying departing employees for unused sick leave is being ended unless they retire on or before June 30, 2016. The raise and benefit cut won't go into effect for the roughly 1,700 faculty represented by the United Faculty of Florida union unless negotiated in collective bargaining.

John Biro, president of the union's UF chapter, said a deal that eliminates the sick-leave payouts even if the raise is discontinued is bad for faculty in the long run.

"It's not a trade-off as it's being presented — it's a grab," he said.

Paula Varnes Fussell, UF vice president for human resource services, said the end of the sick-leave payouts won't pay for the cost of the raise for many years. She said that eliminating the sick-leave payouts is needed regardless of the raise because of the current economic reality of repeated state budget cuts.

"We don't have the same amount of money that we had five years ago," she said.

In addition to budget cuts, state lawmakers approved a measure in last year's legislative session requiring workers in the Florida Retirement System to make a 3 percent retirement contribution starting in July 2011. A lawsuit challenging the requirement, filed by teacher and other public employee unions, is pending in a Leon County court.

In December, UF trustees passed the raise and the elimination of sick leave payouts for non-union staff. They gave Machen the authority to delay the raise for faculty pending the resolution of the lawsuit, but he announced to the Faculty Senate last week that he wanted to make a decision more quickly.

"If we're going to do it, we've got to do it," he said.

The lawsuit's resolution will impact whether faculty continue to get the raise. If the state requires UF rather than faculty to make the 3 percent retirement contribution, UF would eliminate the 3 percent payment, according to a memo sent Wednesday to faculty.

If the state or a court requires UF to reimburse eligible faculty for past contributions they've been required to make, that reimbursement would be cut by the amount UF already has made to them in retirement payments, the memo said.

Biro said UF has rejected the union's proposal to offer faculty a choice and slowly phase out the sick-leave payouts. He said the union's analysis found the idea would cost the same as the university plan, but the administration wouldn't consider it.

"They refused to even look at that or discuss it," he said.

Fussell said the administration has a difference of opinion on whether the union's plan would be revenue neutral.

"We did not think that their proposal was realistic, reasonable or revenue neutral," she said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com. For more stories on the University of Florida, visit www.thecampussun.com.

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