Archive for Monday, January 20, 2003

Worker groups lobby for raises

January 20, 2003

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After a year without pay increases, three separate groups of Kansas University employees will be vying for raises at the Statehouse this legislative session.

Leaders representing KU faculty, classified staff and unclassified staff say they want to work together while lobbying, but lawmakers may be forced to set priorities for who needs raises the most.

"I hope we don't compete," said Dennis Constance, a custodial supervisor who represents KU's 1,500 classified workers. "At the university, we're all in the same boat. We all need more money than we have."

Each group has a slightly different strategy for seeking raises.

Classified employees, which include secretaries, maintenance workers and janitors, have their salaries set directly by the Legislature. Each university sets salaries for faculty and unclassified staff, which includes midlevel administrative positions, computer technicians, research assistants and others.

Constance said in the past, the group that represents classified workers at universities has asked for a percentage salary increase. This year, it decided to ask that the sections of the pay scale below federal poverty guidelines be increased to at least the poverty level.

Constance said 4.4 percent of classified employees in the state fall in the poverty guidelines, which begin at $18,100 per year for a family of four. Data for how much increasing those to above the poverty line would cost the state were not available.

He said he expected classified workers to spend more time in the Capitol this year.

"That's in part because we are kind of out there on our own," he said. "The university has no direct control over what a given (classified) job gets paid. If we want to influence the process we have to be there ourselves."

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has proposed a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for classified employees.

Classified employees have long complained that salaries in Kansas are lower than their counterparts in surrounding states. According to data gathered by the classified workers, the Kansas average salary for classified workers is $9.86 per hour, $1.54 less than the national average.




Unclassified

While classified staff are stepping up their lobbying, leaders of KU's 1,400 unclassified staff are beginning a lobbying campaign.

Thelma Simons, president of Unclassified Professional Staff Assn., said unclassified staff hadn't been in the Statehouse in recent years, instead relying on KU's staff lobbyists to deliver their message.

"This is the first time unclassified staff have actually tried to address issues directly to the Legislature in recent memory," she said.

Simons, who works in KU's Academic Computer Center, said passage of the 1999 Higher Education Reorganization Act -- commonly referred to Senate Bill 345 -- for the first time gave faculty members higher raises than unclassified staff. Before, the two groups almost always received the same raises, she said.

"We do have serious morale issues going on because of both the lack of salary increases and the fact we're losing people," she said. "We'd certainly like to see an increase -- even a nominal increase -- as a good-faith gesture, for the state to say we do value your services."

Faculty

Meanwhile, a KU faculty leader said faculty members planned to align themselves with the university lobbying effort led by Janet Murguia, executive vice chancellor for university relations.

"I kind of think faculty have to be a little careful preaching and moaning and groaning for higher salaries," said Tom Mulinazzi, professor of engineering and president of the Faculty Council. "We ought to focus on how the cuts are downgrading the quality of the University of Kansas, and whether they'll be willing as lawmakers to live with that."

Jack Wempe, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, said regents would ask lawmakers to fund the third year of salary increases promised in 1999. That funding -- which would provide about a 3 percent increase for faculty -- wasn't forthcoming last year.

"I don't think any of us have given up on that, and I hope the Legislature hasn't," he said. "This (economic situation) won't go on forever."

According to the American Association of University Professors, the average KU full professor earns $84,400 per year. The national average for all public, doctorate-granting universities is $89,600.

'Job to educate'

Murguia wouldn't say whether she thought any employee group needed raises more than the others.

"The Legislature and elected officials are going to make some tough decisions," she said. "Our job is to educate them about the roles different groups play, and what impact they have."

Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence and chairman of the House Higher Education committee, said all of the groups deserved raises. But he wasn't sure what chance any or all had for receiving increases this year.

"The bottom line is they have different needs," he said. "It's a competitive market for people in classified jobs. But it's competitive for people in unclassified and faculty positions, too."

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