What to pay?

The lowest-paid University employees should not bear cuts.

The supplemental budget bill Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law in April included a directive requesting that the University of Minnesota consider involuntary furloughs for its “lowest paid employees,” in order to balance its budget. Yet the University does not need to use coercion in this case because there is a fair and effective solution: voluntary furloughs for the lowest paid employees and involuntary furloughs for top administrators.
The union that represents University clerical workers supports voluntary furloughs, and they have proven successful. More than 60 percent of Hennepin County employees individually took off as much time as they could afford in one voluntary furlough program, which saved the county $ 4.5 million in 2009.
University President Bob Bruininks says the crisis of the continued economic downturn and the extra pay period for 2010-11— a budgetary anomaly because of the biweekly pay system — cannot be solved this way. Instead, three involuntary furlough days might be required of all University clerical and administrative employees.
Senior administrators might have to take pay reductions totaling 2.3 percent — twice the proposed cuts for clerical workers — and anyone at the University is eligible for 10 unpaid furlough days. Yet, what the University should implement is the sliding-scale model that it used during the Great Depression, under which employees making less than a certain amount saw no pay reductions.
The extra pay period is a foreseeable recurring budgetary anomaly that occurs every 11 years. Bruininks has had ample time to solve this problem during his eight years as president. A lack of forward thinking on the part of University should not require additional sacrifice by the University’s lowest paid staff.