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Thursday, December 18, 2014

‘Raises’ don’t improve take-home pay overall

Editor,

An open letter to the Provost, the President, the Board of Regents and the Legislature.

With regard to Thursday’s emergency meeting about changes to the health care plan for UNM faculty and staff, I would like to make a few suggestions and offer a few opinions. First, can we please stop calling the 2.5 percent increase to base pay for staff and 3 percent for faculty “raises”? That is not what these are. With the upcoming change to our health care and retirement benefits, those small percentages are not raises, but part of a redistribution of how money is allocated within the compensation package employees receive. Some employees will see a net benefit from these changes, but many will see their actual income decrease. To call it a raise for faculty and staff implies that they will all take home more money, and that is simply not the case.

While it is very difficult to analyze just how these changes will affect people, I ran the numbers for my own situation and, as best as I can tell, using my health care spending last year, if these changes (“raises,” retirement and health care) had gone into effect last year, I would have broken even. So it appears the change will have no net effect on me. That 3 percent (if it is given across the board and not varied for “merit”) will allow me to hold even.

It is very difficult to find information about median and mean salaries for faculty and staff; my best guess is that I am somewhere around the 60th percentile for my salary. This would indicate that given the changes to health care, VEBA and the ERB, these “raises” will result in 60 percent of faculty and staff (with the burden being disproportionately shouldered by staff) making less money, while 40 percent will make more. While my numbers might be off, what is absolutely appalling to me is that the increased cost of health care is being used to subsidize these “raises.” It means that those who make less are paying (in part) for the raises of those who make more. Those who can least afford it are being asked to sacrifice so those that are already doing better can have even more. I would like to suggest that these changes (retirement, salary and health care) be looked at from a holistic perspective (since it is all part of total compensation) and that the administration provide information on who is likely to make less (year over year) with the proposed changes and who is likely to make more. At least give us scenarios of how these changes effect someone with a low salary, with an average salary and with a high salary, given the same health care consumption.

Given the structure of the tiers for monthly premiums and the fact that a flat cost savings is being used to fund percentage increases, the changes appear to me (on the limited information I have been able to analyze) to be extraordinarily regressive in nature. It seems to me to be the equivalent of cutting the pay of some employees to give raises to others. I, for one, do not want to participate. I do not want my holding even (if we ignore issues like inflation) to come at the cost of others falling behind. I urge you to find a more equitable way to distribute base salary increases — one that alleviates the burden being placed on those making less. Can I suggested a flat dollar amount based on the tiers used to calculate monthly health care premiums, one that gives the largest bump to those in the lowest tier, with each progressively higher tier receiving less?

Thank you,

Patrick Manning

Associate Professor Department of Art and Art History