Monday, July 10, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 157 

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Staff Council formalizing 'at-will' discussion

By Ed De La Garza
Daily Cougar Staff

UH Staff Council hopes a flood of forms, not petitions, is the best way to make their feelings known about proposed revisions to the University's staff dismissal policy.

Distribution of the forms to all staff members began Friday and should be complete by July 17. The signed documents allow space for comment on proposed policy changes that would make all staff members "at will" employees -- that is, able to be dismissed without cause and without the chance for appeal.

University President Arthur K. Smith signed the policy revision June 1, triggering fears that staff members' job security was being destroyed. After complaints, the changes were postponed pending further review, which is set to be completed in mid-November.

Although employees have been signing petitions since hearing about the proposed change, Staff Council members decided Thursday that forms would be a more effective medium of communication with administrators.

"We've never had (an at-will policy) here, and we don't see a reason for it," Staff Council President Charles Henry said. "Randy Harris said it was needed to take the University to the next level. Whatever reasons given were not acceptable to us."

Harris, the University's vice president for administration and finance, told staff members last month that an at-will policy was necessary to make UH a Tier I research institution.

The forms will be counted by Robert Herrington, assistant vice chancellor for human resources. Herrington has been validating a list of more than 300 petition signatures and e-mail responses.

"Some employees may be scared to sign a petition," Herrington said. "As far as I'm concerned, I'd like to see as many people as we can (complete the forms so the administration cannot) say this is not worded properly."

Henry said he hopes to present Smith and Harris with forms from every staff member.

In the meantime, some Staff Council members worried their campaign against the at-will policy was damaged by flyers posted anonymously across campus. The hand-written signs, which said Smith would address staff at Thursday's Council meeting, may have contributed to the large turnout at the meeting.

In fact, the flyers were not sanctioned by the Staff Council. Smith, who is on vacation, was never scheduled to speak at the meeting.

"This really hurts our credibility when signs say something and it doesn't happen," Henry said. "We appreciate the support, but we would like whoever put these signs up to check all the facts before doing so again."

Although the majority of people present at the meeting opposed the policy change, one employee questioned the Council's "all or nothing" stance.

"People are really pushing this," said Maryann Price, an office coordinator at Education Leadership and Cultural Studies. "What are you afraid of -- compromise?"

But Physical Plant employee Arthur Anderson said what staff are afraid of is an employment policy that would give administrators unfair power over so many people.

"We're afraid of being at-will employees that can be easily discriminated against or replaced if someone feels their brother-in-law can do a better job than we can," Anderson said.

In other business, Herrington informed Council members that Humana and Aetna are no longer managed health providers for UH staff, meaning some 700 staff members will have to switch to new HMOs or be automatically changed to Health Select.

Preparations are also being made for Cougar First Impressions, the annual program designed to welcome students back to campus the first few days of the fall semester.

Staff Council has received $6,500 in donations from various UH campus colleges and departments.

During CFI, booths manned by staff and student volunteers provide students with free water, maps, brochures and information. CFI assisted 2,700 last year.

Staff Council will fill 10 vacancies -- six in Academic Affairs, two in Administration and Finance and two at-large positions -- during a campus-wide election Aug. 2.

Nominations are being accepted through Friday. Potential candidates must be nominated by three staff members to be placed on the ballot. Voting will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 2, with absentee voting July 28 through Aug. 1.

The next Staff Council meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 3, in Room 220, Ezekiel Cullen.

With additional reporting by Brandon Moeller.

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