At one of a series of town hall meetings for University staff, compensation and benefits director Hugh Penney was hard-pressed to finish his PowerPoint presentation on Tuesday morning.
No sooner had Penney explained a slide on Yale’s new sick day policy — which will cut the number of new sick days staff receive each year from 12 to six — or the phasing out of bonus vacation days for long-time staff, than a thicket of raised hands sprung from the crowd of about 45 managerial and professional employees in Luce Hall Auditorium.
One staff member asked whether Yale’s benefits package is still better than those of other Ivy League schools. (It is, Penney said). Another pointed out that many staff members use sick days to care for sick children, and not necessarily for their own illnesses. Many whispered to each other and took notes as they listened to Penney’s presentation.
Tuesday’s session was one of a series of talks hosted by the University to answer questions and provide employees with more information on recent changes in managerial and professional benefits packages, which cut paid time off, vacation days and vacation bonuses, as well as adding short-term disability coverage.
The most emphatic comment at the meeting came from a woman sitting near the front of the auditorium.
“The unions have fought very hard,” she said, referring to Yale’s clerical, technical, service and maintenance employee unions, which last year negotiated a new pay structure and benefits package with the University administration. “But we [managerial and professional employees] had no input into these changes.”
Though unionized workers were able to voice their concerns in that negotiation, she explained, managerial and professional staff, who are not unionized, only learned of their pay and benefits changes when they read the budget memo released Feb. 3.
The woman suggested that managerial and professional staff form a group to take their concerns to administrators. She pressed both hands to her chest, then gestured at Penney in appeal.
“Everyone knows the economy’s bad, but we love Yale, too!” she said.
The woman’s comments were met with a burst of applause from many of the other employees in the audience, who ranged in age from young recent hires to senior staff approaching retirement age. (Though the woman interrupted Penney several times later in the meeting, support for her waned as the presentation continued, with several members of the audience shaking their heads each time she raised her hand.)
Penney responded that many areas of the University, including staff, have had to sacrifice to help balance Yale’s budget. The benefits adjustments, for example, will result in significant savings for Yale, he said. When staff leave or retire, Yale must pay for their replacements, as well as the value of their unused paid time-off days in cash. Currently, Yale employees collectively have a total of approximately 500 years of unused days off in the “bank,” worth about $40 million, he said. But when the new cap is put into effect in the next fiscal year, it will limit the number of days for which Yale will have to reimburse employees.
Penney added that administrators would consider seeking input from staff on benefits issues in the future.
“I’ll take that back [to them],” he said.
Penney told the audience that human resources administrators are setting up a way for staff to telecommute from home on some days and rolling out “voluntary layoff” buyout packages for staff who choose to leave or retire early as departments eliminate positions this spring.
Penney next drew attention to the advantages of the new short-term disability plan. The plan can now be used to supplement maternity leave and protect staff members who have multiple disabilities or illnesses in a year and have already used all of their paid time-off days, he told the audience. Short-term disability coverage will allow staff who fall seriously ill or suffer a disability to receive full salary and benefits for six weeks, and 60 percent of their compensation for up to 26 weeks.
“I could care less about the short-term disability plan,” another audience member said, adding that it seemed “unfair” for the University to cut nearly all aspects of the benefits package in return for adding short-term disability coverage.
Another man nearby questioned why the plan would force staff with short-term disabilities or illnesses to give up all their accumulated vacation days before taking disability pay, which he said is unfair to employees who have accrued a large number of sick days.
“There will always be winners and losers wherever you put the line down,” Penney answered.
Despite Penney’s reassurances, one senior manager raised his hand and said resentment toward the new changes has begun to grow among many of the staff members in his office. Though the University is in financial trouble, the employee said, he and others think managerial and professional staff were especially hard hit. People might be reluctant to take jobs at Yale now, he said.
“I think that’s why a lot of people like to work at Yale,” a woman called out in agreement. “The salary isn’t that good, but the benefits are good. Now, what’ll happen?”
Until the benefits changes were announced Feb. 3, Yale was the only Ivy League school that did not offer short-term disability coverage to employees.