U-Civil Service Merit Bd Hears Both Sides on Ac-Pro Reclassification Bill

May 18, 2011

Academic professional workers at the University of Illinois crowded into a State Universities Civil Service Merit Board meeting in Urbana on Wednesday morning.

These workers are exempt from state Civil Service rules --- and they were concerned about a bill in Springfield that would take exemption powers away from state universities. (Academic Professionals at the U of I Urbana campus include many Illinois Public Media employees, including the news staff.)

Rick Atterberry of the Council of Academic Professionals told Merit Board members that Civil Service rules are a bad fit for certain specialized university jobs. Atterberry pointed to the practice of "bumping" --- when a Civil Service worker whose own job is eliminated can take over the job of someone with less seniority.

"Bumping severely and irreparably disrupts operations resulting in the loss of key employees with the requisite skills and specialized institutional knowledge critical for the continuation of successful operations," Atterberry said.

But Universities Civil Service Advisory Committee Chair Barney Bryson told the Merit board that real problem lies with universities that grant improper Civil Service exemptions.

"We can only look to Chicago to see how far out of line this has been --- oh I don't want to use that word --- we can see how far this has been misused," Bryson said.

Service Employees International Union Local #73 Vice President Phil Martini also brought up the UIC case. He said audits by the State Universities Civil Service System found that a majority of recent Civil Service exemptions at the Chicago campus were inappropriate. But he said that exemptions for most positions related to teaching and research were legitimate --- and questioned whether the Academic Professionals attending Tuesday's Merit Board meeting had anything to worry about.

"I'll bet 90 percent of the people in this room are not affected by this change," Martini said. "We're talking (in the UIC cases) about people at the lowest level of wages in the university, now being replaced by people that are making wages much higher than the equivalent job."

U of I Associate Vice President of Human Resources Maureen Parks acknowledged the problems with improper Civil Service exemptions at the Chicago campus, which she says are being fixed. But she argued state universities need the ability to quickly identify those jobs which don't fit Civil Service guidelines.

"Many of our schools have groundbreaking research grants and contracts which were awarded from federal agencies," Parks said. "These external requirements, deadlines and deliverables require specific capabilities, background experience and skills."

The Civil Service Merit Board had no action to take on the Civil Service exemption bill, although they heard discussion on the measure at three points during the Thursday meeting --- during the Public Comment session, in reports from Advisory Committees, and a discussion of the U of I Chicago case.

Universities Civil Service executive director Tom Morelock said he doesn't think the Civil Service exemption bill will make it out of the General Assembly this spring.

The measure (Senate Bill 1150) passed the Illinois Senate last month, and is now awaiting action by the House Executive Committee.

Meanwhile, Morelock said he is working on his own rule changes, aimed at achieving the same goals as the bill. He says the new rules could move through the state regulatory review process in the next eight-to-12 months. But Sizemore cautioned that input from all involved parties could result in a watering-down of his proposal.

Story source: WILL