Recently, U-M moved hundreds of staff members from exempt to non-exempt status based on the revised Federal Labor Standards Act. While the changes may have been spurred by the federal government, the University botched the process.
For affected staff, this means eligibility for time-and-a-half for overtime; it decreases the number of vacation days for future hires in similar positions (current staff are grandfathered); all work time must be accounted for, as opposed to full- and half-day increments; it means that flex-time is less flexible; pay will be biweekly instead of monthly. There are other differences.
According to the University and the U.S. Department of Labor, exemption is based on the level of one's work, including but not limited to the "exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance." There are myriad other tests, and a legacy of case law. The University considers the new regulations cut-and-dry, but I'm not convinced.
The problem is that when the University undertook this process, aided by an outside, independent counsel, they did little legwork beyond looking at current job descriptions. And, as many know, these are often irrelevant, vague and ambiguous at best. The result? Garbage in, garbage out, to be sure.
Upon first glance, the changes are minimal. Indeed, overtime could be a boon to a few. But it's clear that the University attaches certain values to exempt staff. They enjoy a higher level of privilege (more vacation days) and trust (in time reporting). They are considered salaried; they are considered professional. Removing these benefits from a class of professionals (or their replacements) represents a de facto deprofessionalization of them.
Is it a coincidence that this affected hundreds of student services personnel? For many of us who already feel marginalized by the University, this represents the icing on the cake.
While the long-overdue University-wide job reclassification projectwhich may remedy some inequityis pending, the exemption changes take effect almost immediately.
Affected staff learned of this change through unit meetings and an official letter; we were told that we were now "eligible" for time-and-one-half overtime pay. Nowhere in the letter did it say we were being made non-exempt. The Web site, http://www.umich.edu/~hraa/compclass/biweekly/, was equally hazy in this regard. This was an insult to our intelligence. In addition, schools, units and departments were ill-equipped to handle the questions and skepticism of affected staff.
Hopefully, the University will learn two things from this debacle. First, it must be sensitive, honest and forthright when dealing with changes that affect employment and careers (this should have been learned long ago). Second, it should work to bolster the professional status of its student services staff, instead of working (implicitly or explicitly) to undermine it.
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