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HR prioritizes solutions for pay issues among Category 3 hourly staff
Over the past several years, Syracuse University’s Office of Human Resources has spearheaded significant changes to the University’s job classification and compensation programs, with positive results affecting all staff. Recently, HR focused its attention on a pay disparity in Job Category 3-the 488 office coordinators, administrative secretaries and student records clerks who form the administrative support backbone of most academic and administrative offices.
“Retention of these key staff members is important, and the Office of Human Resources has been hard at work evaluating and adjusting salaries to remain competitive,” says Neil B. Strodel, associate vice president and chief human resources officer.
An important part of HR’s responsibility in maintaining the staff classification and compensation system is gathering and reporting on market data through a variety of salary surveys. The results of these surveys are summarized and recommendations for improvements in staff compensation are made to the University administration and the University Senate Budget Committee.
During fiscal year 2002-03, HR conducted an extensive market study that revealed a serious disparity between Category 3 non-exempt staff salaries and equivalent positions’ salaries at other institutions. The average rate of pay in that category at SU was nearly 25 percent below market, the greatest disparity in any of the pay categories by nearly 10 percentage points. Strodel and Roger Casanova, director of compensation administration, asked the Senate Budget Committee’s Subcommittee on Costs for a budget add-on to partially address the disparity over two years; ultimately, the committee included language in the FY 2003-04 budget instructions calling attention to the disparity and urging managers and department heads to seek resources within their budgets to alleviate the problem.
Casanova says that as a result of this message, salary increases in FY 2003-04 averaged 4.04 percent-$117,653 over planned pro forma increases-for 470 continuing, non-promoted, hourly Category 3 staff members.
In FY 2003-04 HR repeated the market study and found a slight improvement. Eleanor Ware, senior vice president for Human Services and Government Relations; Strodel; and Casanova returned to the Senate Budget Committee and were successful in securing a $1 million add-on specifically for Category 3 hourly staff. The add-on is being phased in from FY 2004-05 through FY 2008-09, beginning with $100,000 and an overall budget increment of 3.8 percent in FY 2004-05.
Managers and department heads will be directed to grant increases averaging at least 3.8 percent for their hourly Category 3 staff, versus 3 percent for all other staff categories and faculty. This does not mean that everyone will earn 3.8 or 3 percent across the board. Managers and staff are currently involved in Performance Partnership discussions, which remain an important component of compensation decisions. Budget increments for hourly Category 3 staff in FY 2005-06 through FY 2008-09 will be calculated and announced on a year-by-year basis.
“The Senate Budget Committee is faced with the very difficult task of prioritizing many competing requests for funding. The committee’s decision to address this issue now underscores its importance both as it impacts the University’s mission and in a work/life context,” says Ware.
The Category 3 focus is the latest chapter in HR’s efforts to direct positive change in the University’s compensation administration, beginning with the New Approach to Staff Compensation implemented in FY 2000-01. That initiative dramatically changed how pay was administered, moving SU from a cumbersome and rigid classification and compensation system to one that was more flexible, reduced the number of job categories by two-thirds, and provided greater discretion to managers for distributing their merit pools. As a result, there were a greater number of significant pay adjustments in the three-year period from FY 2000-01 through FY 2002-03, affecting 1,164 staff. Variable pay was introduced as a means for providing a non-base award to recognize staff for specific outstanding accomplishments. And in FY 2001-02, the University implemented the Fair Wage Initiative, which substantially raised the starting salaries of the University’ s lowest-paid staff over three years to $9.01 per hour as of FY 2003-04.
“HR will continue to monitor staff salaries and, in a broader context, total staff compensation including the value of the suite of fringe benefits that are available to staff,” Strodel says. “While the University sometimes lags behind the market in terms of cash compensation for some staff positions, the value of our fringe benefits enhances our competitive position. These economic factors and other related issues, such as work/life initiatives, all contribute to our ability to compete successfully for and retain qualified staff and make SU an employer of choice.”