University officials consider furloughs

Under the plan, employees would be required to take three unpaid leaves of absence.

Kyle Potter

The University of Minnesota is considering mandating at least three unpaid days off for all employees over the next fiscal year. University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter confirmed that the University is discussing the three furlough days, which would save the school about $12 million. Top administrators âÄî those holding dean positions and higher âÄî would be required to take an additional three days off. Any employee would be allowed to voluntarily take unpaid leave for a total of 10 days. Pfutzenreuter said the calculations havenâÄôt yet been totaled to determine how much the University would save with the extra days taken by top administrators. University President Bob Bruininks is scheduled to bring the plan before the University Senate on Thursday. Professor Marti Hope Gonzales, chairwoman of the Faculty Consultative Committee to the University Senate, said the committee will vote on the proposal at the end of March. The plan has already drawn support from some committee members, with professor Walt Jacobs applauding the administration for âÄúspreading the pain around so that it protects jobs as much as possible.âÄù Administrators have discussed scheduling the furloughs over winter break, when the campus is used less frequently, Pfutzenreuter said. AFSCME Local 3800, the UniversityâÄôs clerical workers union, has vocally opposed any plans for mandated employee furloughs. âÄúWith some of the lowest paid employees at the University as it is, we canâÄôt take a pay cut,âÄù President Phyllis Walker said of the roughly 3,000 employees her union represents. When Walker heard rumors that the administration was planning to mandate 10 furlough days in January, she and other University staff began protests. She said these protests forced the University to decrease the number to just three, but she still isnâÄôt happy. For Walker, any mandated furlough is unacceptable. She suggested a voluntary leave of absence system, in which employees would sign up in advance for days of unpaid absence. The University could then determine how much would be accumulated in savings. Such a system put in place within Hennepin County last year generated $4.5 million in savings, said Todd Olness, the county compensation manager. Olness said that of their roughly 7,500 employees, 4,500 volunteered to take an average of 30 hours off. Jacobs said he is not sure a voluntary system would generate what is needed to help balance the budget. âÄúIâÄôm actually kind of grateful that the administration has come up with a plan that isnâÄôt too harsh,âÄù he said, comparing the UniversityâÄôs plan to other schools that have implemented furloughs across the nation. The budget problem is so severe at the University of Illinois that administrators fear they will be unable to complete the school year if they donâÄôt receive additional funding. Faced with $400 million in budget shortfalls for this fiscal year, interim President Stanley Ikenberry announced they would be implementing a furlough system. Executives at the school must take two days off per month through May, while other faculty are required to take just one through April. Arizona State University began a furlough program in January 2009 to cope with about $60 million in budget cuts. Staff and faculty were required to take 10 to 15 days off between January and June of last year in order to generate $24 million in savings, according to a statement from ASU President Michael Crow. ASU Assistant Director of Human Resources Jen Treu said the furlough was both a financial and emotional success. âÄúAt first there was anxiety, but as people started using it and going through it, they actually were looking forward to time off,âÄù she said of the campus response to ASUâÄôs furlough. In Wisconsin, the governor mandated furloughs statewide. Mark Walters, director of classified human resources at the University of Wisconsin said organizing furloughs has been an âÄúadministrative nightmare.âÄù Under the UW plan, employees with 12-month contracts have to take eight furlough days this year as well as next year. Employees with nine-month contracts are required to take six. On average, the furloughs amount to a 3 percent pay cut. While it has run smoothly so far, Walters said he anticipates that it will become more complicated as the end of this fiscal year nears because the administration will have to force anyone who has not taken their unpaid days off to do so. âÄúThat could get kind of bloody,âÄù he said. Despite successes elsewhere, clerical workers at the University said they cannot cope with losing three daysâÄô pay. âÄúI am one of the people that live paycheck to paycheck. I canâÄôt afford a furlough,âÄù said Amy Selvius, a secretary at the Global Studies Institute and a member of AFSCME Local 3800. She questioned the need to mandate furloughs when âÄúover 250 administrators make over $200,000 a year.âÄù The topic of executive pay will be a main issue Thursday when students, staff and faculty nationwide draw attention to financial problems in higher education. The protests are organized by a group out of California âÄî a university system that raised tuition in January and will again next fall, amounting to a 32 percent increase. Groups from 30 different states and Washington, D.C., have committed to participate in what theyâÄôre calling a day to âÄúdefend education.âÄù The United Council of University of Wisconsin Students has organized a teach-in at UW to educate students on relevant topics such as state funding for higher education, state-sponsored grants and low tuition. They will also encourage UW students systemwide to contact their legislators to encourage funding for education, said Todd Nordgren, one of the organizers. At the University, ThursdayâÄôs rally will be geared much more toward administratorsâÄô actions on campus. University students, staff and faculty have planned a rally outside Northrop Auditorium and Morrill Hall at 12 p.m. Tracy Molm, an organizer for the University event, said those who will attend are protesting what they view as an unfair budget balancing act that puts too much weight on students and low-paid staff. âÄúPeople who make over $100,000 a year can afford to take cuts,âÄù she said. Organizers of ThursdayâÄôs rally say the University should find other areas to cut spending. âÄúThere are clerical workers who have to save up to buy their children a pair of socks, and if you take three daysâÄô salary away from them,âÄù Walker said, âÄúthat has an incredible impact on their standard of living.âÄù