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Repair bill triggers concern regarding retirement

February 24, 2011

Since Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill was announced Feb. 11, several UW-River Falls classified staff are questioning whether they should retire this year, said Director of Human Resources Donna Robole.

Classified staff are employees who are not considered faculty or academic staff and who provide support to the university. Classified staff are comprised of administrative support staff, maintenance and grounds staff, custodians, information technology staff, financial specialists, purchasing, payroll and supervisors.

The primary reason why some classified staff in particular are thinking about retiring is they are worried that the sick leave hours that have accumulated over the years may be taken away from them, Robole said.

Employees who have worked for at least 15 years of continuous state service earn sick leave credits through the Supplemental Health Insurance Conversion Credit (SHICC) program.  The accumulated sick leave is multiplied by the employee’s highest basic pay rate and converted to credits that help pay for health insurance during retirement.

Most of the staff and faculty who retire still have a couple of years before Medicare kicks in so the credits help bridge that gap, Robole said.

The budget repair bill states that the secretary of administration, the director of the Office of State Employee Relations and the secretary of employee trust funds will evaluate the SHICC and make modifications and recommendations to the governor no later than June 30, 2012.

According to a document that UW System sent to all employees explaining the implications of the budget repair bill on benefits, changes to the SHICC program before June 30 of this year are not anticipated.  However, the document states it is unknown if there will be any changes to the program after June 30 either through the 2011-13 budget bill or through any other means.

This has led several UWRF staff to speculate and anticipate changes that may occur to their retirement benefits.

UWRF custodian Brad Bergeron has worked for the university for more than 30 years and is strongly considering retirement because he said he doesn’t want to lose more than 2,740 sick leave hours.  Translated into a dollar amount he said he has between $50,000 to $60,000 in credits.

Kathy Svoboda, program assistant in the College of Arts and Sciences Deans Office has worked at UWRF for 25 years and said she is also thinking about retiring. She has a meeting with Deb Koehler in Human Resources next week to look over her retirement benefits.  Koehler, who retired in December, has been hired back as a limited term employee, and has had 12 people make appointments with her so far.

Sherry Reis, program assistant in the Mathematics Department has worked at UWRF for 34 years and said she is also thinking about retiring. Like Svoboda and Bergeron, she is worried and stressed out about losing her retirement benefits.

“Everything I worked for might go down the tubes,” Reis said.

Reis said she was planning on working another year but may be forced to retire in four months.

“I have too much to lose, said Reis.  Never in a million years did I think I would end my working career at the hand of someone else.”

Biology professor E. Katherine Miller has worked for UWRF for 18 years and said she will be retiring at the end of the next school year.  She said she is tired of working for a state that continually disrespects the work she does.

Even though the UW System stated that it doesn’t perceive threats to staff benefits before June 30, the union that represents many of the staff at UWRF and other UW schools, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, will be null and void by March 13, said Director of Human Resources at UW-Eau Claire Donna Weber.

The SHICC program is not authorized by state statute and is provided for in the compensation plan and collective bargaining agreements, according to a UW System document.

Weber said that she has seen a huge number of people inquiring about their retirement package in the last week.  Nine classified employees are retiring and will work their last day March 11, Weber said. They are all retiring because of the fear of losing their benefits, Weber added.

Currently only one unclassified employee is retiring because of the repair bill, Weber said.

Robole said she is worried about the anxiety that staff and faculty may be internalizing. The threat to their retirement is something that is out of their control and is not about performance and the staff members who decide to retire in the coming weeks and month are doing it for peace of mind, Robole said.