BASCOM HALL file photo 5

View of Bascom Hall on UW-Madison campus photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. 

MIKE DEVRIES — The Capital Times

Performance-based pay bumps for faculty and academic staff. A loss of some protections in case you're laid off. A guarantee all employees would be paid a living wage.

Those are some provisions in a sweeping overhaul proposed for how UW-Madison's 20,000 employees are classified, recruited, paid and evaluated. The plan, developed from a series of campus-wide meetings during the last nine months, was released Friday by university officials and could take effect next July, pending approval by the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents and the state Legislature.

"We really tried extremely hard to ensure that the plan represented all the views of our campus community," said Robert Lavigna, director of UW-Madison's Office of Human Resources.

University officials plan to host four public forums and two web chats about the plan in coming weeks before taking the plan to the Board of Regents in November or December.

Although UW-Madison workers would remain on state pension and health insurance programs as state employees, the plan would fold them into a single UW-Madison human-resources system with as-yet-undetermined job titles and compensation structures. The department would develop an online recruiting site that would be a central stop for applicants to apply and track their applications.

University officials sought the opportunity to create a new pay and classification system, and Gov. Scott Walker gave it to them in the current two-year budget. The UW System is doing a separate revamp.

Under revised hiring and compensation rules, UW-Madison workers at the bottom end — except student workers — likely would see a significant pay bump because the university would abide by the living-wage standard, which will increase to $12.19 an hour in Madison next January. Currently a starting custodian at UW-Madison earns $11.28 an hour.

For everyone else, it's less clear how the changes would impact pay and benefits, although the university said base wages will not decrease for any employee.

The plan would allow hiring managers latitude to base starting pay on a "market-based compensation system," adjusting their offers to compete with other employers locally, regionally or nationally. The university already uses the system in hiring faculty but would expand it to other positions.

"We'll use the market to inform pay levels in a way that will make us more competitive," Lavigna said. "The expectation is not that the market will drive wages down."

Two tiers?

However, a union spokesman said he fears the change will lead to a two-tier system of employees, especially in lower skill jobs: those hired before the changes took effect and those hired after, who could be lower paid if the market rate dictated it.

"It really creates pay disparities within employee groups and within the university as a whole," said David Ahrens, a recently retired researcher who is the spokesman for the Wisconsin University Union, which represents faculty and academic staff.

It also would give more managers authority to base pay raises at least partly on performance. While some university employees already are under the merit-pay system, the new plan would extend it to faculty and academic staff, Lavigna said. The change would require Legislative approval, which UW-Madison and other UW System schools will seek.

Layoff changes

The plan also would bring controversial changes in dealing with layoffs.

Gone would be the mandatory right of reassignment to another job within the university for laid-off workers, currently guaranteed for university "classified" staff but not for academic staff. The laid-off workers would be guaranteed the right to interview and be considered for openings in other departments but hiring managers wouldn't be required to hire them.

Also gone: the current "last hired, first fired" provision for university staffers. If required to do layoffs, management no longer would have to consider only seniority.

"It would still be a primary factor, but not the only factor," Lavigna said.

The plan also contains significant provisions for improving university hiring and development of employees from diverse backgrounds as well as expanding training and development opportunities for workers and managers.