The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
UMW to cut some staff hours
BY LINDLEY ESTES
The University of Mary Washington is cutting wage employees to 29 hours per week starting Feb. 11 to conform with the governor’s proposed budget and to avoid having to provide them with health insurance.
The federal Affordable Care Act deems that all state employees in all branches of government who work 30 hours or more per week are full-time employees in terms of being eligible to participate in the state’s health insurance plan.
In response to the new law, Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed budget states that “wage employees in the legislative, judicial, executive and independent branches of government may not work more than 29 hours per week on average per month.”
UMW currently employs 125 wage staff members and 137 adjunct professors. Wage employees are any non-salaried person, including adjunct professors, in all departments.
UMW’s associate vice president for human resources, Sabrina Johnson, said about 35 staff members and five adjunct professors will be affected by the reduction in hours. None of those employees qualified for state health coverage.
Although the General Assembly has not yet passed a budget, state Agency Human Resource Services Director Rue Collins White sent an email to human resources directors of all state agencies urging them to take a “prudent staffing approach and implement the proposed restrictions now.”
Johnson said this email persuaded UMW to go ahead with the changes.
“This has not been finalized yet,” she said of the proposed budget. “We wanted to make sure we are being as cautious as possible.”
Johnson said the school was notified of the proposed legislation three weeks ago and made staff aware on Jan. 22.
An email to staff supervisors from the UMW Department of Human Resources reads: “We regret the mandated reduction in hours but must comply under risk of liability for violation of state law.” Another email to supervisors of wage positions exceeding the new limit read: “This is not a university initiated action, our compliance is mandated under risk of penalty for violation of state law.”
Adjunct faculty, in particular, are affected by the change. These part-time faculty earn about one-fourth of what tenure-track professors earn, according to the American Association of University Professors.
“There are mixed feeling from managers,” Johnson said. “I imagine there is some concern, especially for those who routinely worked over 30 hours.”
McDonnell’s office released a statement about the proposed budget item, noting the federal act’s new definition of full-time employee. The statement noted that final regulations have not yet been issued “so we don’t yet know the full impact it will have on Virginia.”
“Special rules for seasonal and variable-hour employees are expected to provide some relief,” it added.
Germanna Community College is trying to determine how best to deal with the proposed legislation.
Spokesman Mike Zitz said the college “currently has more questions than answers. We’re trying to figure it out like everyone else.”
Germanna has not implemented the changes to wage employee’s hours yet. Zitz said the school is waiting for a vote on the budget and guidance from the Virginia Community College System.
The community college currently has 152 part-time staff and 263 part-time teaching staff, but Zitz said it is not clear how many of them the proposed budget change would affect.
Other state universities have deferred action on the recommendation until more information is available.
Suzanne Seurattan, spokeswoman for the College of William & Mary, said, “We are aware of the state’s recommendations, and are looking at them. The state is still developing guidance on this. We’ll know more once that information is complete.”
The University of Virginia is also holding off on the staffing changes for now.
“We’re evaluating the potential impact and various options we might consider,” said U.Va. spokesman McGregor McCance. “No decisions have been made.”
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976