ACLC: UF made poor decision to pay some employees and not others
By an anonymous OPS employee at UF
Following the turmoil of Hurricane Irma, I returned to my position as an OPS (temporary or “other personnel services”) employee at the University of Florida to discover that I would not be compensated for the three days of work missed due to the school’s closure.
According to UF’s Human Resources website, OPS employees would not be granted administrative leave due to a natural disaster, while employees classified as TEAMS (technical, executive, administrative and managerial support) or USPS (university support personnel system) would be granted the benefit.
I submitted my timesheet as instructed, omitting the days when the office was closed, and realized that my paycheck would be nearly $250 short due to this lack of compensation. Since my paychecks are hardly enough to cover my finances on a regular basis, being denied several days of pay will have significant repercussions for me in the coming weeks. I will have difficulty paying regularly scheduled bills and will struggle to meet basic needs. For example, I will have to monitor my grocery bill extremely closely and pay only the minimum payment due on my credit cards.
I’ve been advised to apply for public assistance such as disaster unemployment assistance (DUA) and FEMA. While services like these are essential, they do not offer a long-term solution. I was also informed of the Aid-a-Gator program that offers assistance to UF employees impacted by Hurricane Irma. I plan to apply for help from both of these resources. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the University of Florida to provide all employees with administrative leave, especially in the face of a natural disaster.
According to its website, UF HR’s strategic commitment plan includes “a fair and competitive compensation strategy” that seeks to “modernize UF’s leave program to be more responsive to faculty and staff needs.” Providing compensation for time missed due to a natural disaster should certainly be a priority, regardless of job classification.
Denying wages to vulnerable workers in the face of adversity reflects poorly on the University of Florida, a recently named top-ten public university. Basic benefits like paid leave are paramount; without them, many employees feel disparaged.
A member of the Alachua County Labor Coalition wrote to Jodi Gentry, Vice President for Human Resources, and shared these grievances on my behalf. Since workers classified as OPS are considered “at will,” maintaining anonymity is essential to avoid retaliation. The suggestion to HR was simple: pay all affected employees for hurricane days.
As expected, Ms. Gentry recommended applying for assistance through the Aid-a-Gator program. In response, the ACLC asserted that UF has made a poor decision in paying some employees while encouraging others to simply apply for charity, particularly since UF’s OPS workers tend to be some of UF›s most economically vulnerable employees. She ensured the ACLC that employees who contacted her would not face retaliation, yet she did not guarantee that employees who contacted her would receive the compensation. Thus, she did not offer a viable solution. Additionally, her insistence on speaking directly with vulnerable workers reeks of union suppression; a lone worker will take compromises that a group could refuse. Plus, I would not feel comfortable accepting a benefit that all workers couldn’t get.
In another comment, Ms. Gentry inadvertently pointed out the prevalence of denying administrative leave to university employees statewide. She stated that OPS hourly employees are paid only for hours worked and that this practice is “consistent and long-standing throughout the State University System (at UF and the other universities such as FSU, UCF, FAU, UNF, UWF, and FIU). As a result, none of these universities provided administrative leave to OPS hourly employees during the hurricane closings.” In an attempt to absolve UF of responsibility, Ms. Gentry highlighted the unfair treatment of all hourly workers under the State University System.
The university certainly budgeted the salaries and wages for all UF employees. You have to wonder: will the money be discreetly absorbed back into the university? Where will it go? Allocating those funds to employees would be feasible, reasonable, and appropriate.
Despite the tepid remarks from the Human Resources Department at UF, the Labor Coalition intends to press this case in the public sphere and urges UF to pay the affected employees for hurricane days. D