Changes to merit employment system take effect July 1

Changes signed into Iowa law in February that govern collective bargaining rights for the state's public employees are scheduled to take effect next month. Absent a resolution to a legal challenge brought by the union covering Iowa State's roughly 1,300 merit employees (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61), the changes begin on July 1 and will apply to all merit employees (AFSCME-covered and supervisory/confidential).

This spring, a leadership team from university human resources (UHR) has been working with its peers at the universities of Iowa and Northern Iowa and state Board of Regents staff to prepare for the changes.

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"We value our employees, we want to take care of them and provide them and their supervisors with the information they need to adapt to the changes," said manager of employee and labor relations Andrea Little. "We view this as an opportunity to create consistent processes and educate supervisors."

She noted that university policies and procedures and the Regent Merit System Rules, which previously could be superseded by language in any two-year collective bargaining agreement between the state and AFSCME, will have a stronger influence on merit employment. For example, like their professional and scientific colleagues, merit employees will be eligible for pay for exceptional performance and recognitions that include a cash award.

All merit staff -- supervisory/confidential and AFSCME-covered positions -- will see some changes as the two groups' processes are aligned.

Key changes

Health insurance is an important employee benefit that the new law removed from the bargaining process. Faced with taking their chances on an uncertain state of Iowa plan in future years or migrating merit employees to existing university plans, the regent universities opted for the latter. Current merit employees will be phased in to the ISU Plan beginning Jan. 1.

Other key changes include:

  • Merit employee seniority lists no longer will be used. When merit employees apply for an open position, they will compete for it, and the hiring unit will look for the best fit for its needs rather than rely on the current seniority process. Merit employees won't be limited on the frequency of position changes.
  • Performance evaluations will be a factor weighed in identifying which employees may be impacted in a university layoff.
  • Supervisors will need to coordinate the performance evaluations of their merit employees around each employee's anniversary date at Iowa State.
  • As is the case now, merit employees will receive straight pay for holidays they don't work and time and one-half pay for the hours they do work. In either case, holiday hours are not included in the overtime calculation. Neither will vacation, sick or comp time hours count toward hours worked for overtime calculations.

The overtime eligibility calculation follows the language in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Little noted that all nonexempt employees at Iowa State will be treated consistently on this.

What doesn't change

Many policies and procedures will remain the same on July 1, with no impact on merit positions. For example, merit staff won't see changes in their vacation and sick leave accrual. The cap for their comp time bank remains at 160 hours, with a June 30 annual payout date. Policies covering reclassifications and promotion/demotion pay won't change. Neither will the rules related to restricted work duties following a job-related injury.

Annual July 1 pay increases will continue to be negotiated between AFSCME and the state of Iowa. The salary increase (a percentage) associated with a merit employee's annual anniversary date will be set by the regents as part of the board's annual salary policy discussion.

More info to come

Little said UHR is planning a series of topic-specific emails to merit employees -- and the approximately 400 employees who supervise them -- during June to provide more detail prior to July 1. Information also will be shared on a UHR website. During the last two weeks of the month, training will be provided for supervisors of merit employees as well as staff with time-entry duties. She also encouraged merit staff to ask questions, either to their unit's HR liaison or a phone hotline set up for this topic, 294-7775.