By MARTY LEVINE
Open enrollment for Pitt benefits this year will be April 28 to May 26 — one week longer than usual, because enrollees will be using the University’s new system, PittWorx.
Assistant Vice Chancellor for University Benefits John Kozar, in announcing the dates at the latest meeting of the University Senate’s Benefits and Welfare Committee on March 2, said his department will host webinars on how to make enrollment changes through the new system.
As always, he noted, “If you don’t want to make any changes, you don’t have to do anything.”
Kozar also said the third and final wave of early retirement offerings, to Pitt’s union employees, was accepted by 94 people who have until March 18 to sign their incentive agreement. Those retirees’ last day of work would be April 30.
TIAA annual report
The committee also heard from Jay Mahoney, relationship manager in TIAA-CREF’s Pittsburgh office, who said that TIAA advised 2,640 Pitt employees in 2020 (as compared to 3,488 in 2019) and that 1,600 of those meetings took place remotely.
TIAA went fully remote with their counseling in March 2020 “and will likely continue with that approach through 2021 following an evaluation of the pandemic environment in August,” Mahoney said. TIAA will eventually reopen its office in Bakery Square, he added.
“One of the things that the pandemic showed us is that many people were ill-prepared with emergency funds,” he said. TIAA paid out twice as much last year as in 2019 in early retirement and other such funds, including emergency withdrawals allowed by the federal government under the first pandemic relief bill, the CARES Act; 285 Pitt employees took advantage of the latter provision.
He also said Pitt employees with TIAA accounts should expect a letter in April advising that, since money market accounts have been paying zero percent interest during the pandemic, investors should switch to other funds in their portfolios.
‘Job creep’ concerns
Angie Coldren of the Office of Research Protections, who represents Staff Council at the committee, told the meeting that, between Pitt’s early retirement offerings and the current hiring slow-down, “there are numerous staff out there who are experiencing job creep.” Some departments, she said, are being reorganized to give the remaining staff members more duties and even promotions without raises.
“Employees are working harder and taking on more responsibilities, and there is just nowhere to go” to secure an income that keeps up with living costs, she said.
“At least in my department I can see the same thing,” said David Salcido, faculty member in the School of Medicine’s emergency medicine department and vice president of the University Senate.
Senate President Chris Bonneau noted that he has talked “a lot” to Andy Stephany, Staff Council president, about this issue and that “it’s a known problem without solutions at the moment.” He also said that Human Resources is cognizant of the issue.
Salary benchmarking, a project HR has undertaken across multiple years, is nearly complete, he believed, adding that he is “certainly optimistic” that “some” of the results from the study — which was partly aimed at making Pitt more competitive in the job market — “will occur this year.”
“I think it’s important to get a message to staff where they can draw the line,” Salcido said. They can say “this wasn’t in my job description; I don’t have the bandwidth for this.”
Coldren said she worries that staff members will be told that if they want a salary increase, they have to transfer to a new position, since a current employee may have hit their salary limit, whereas a new hire might be offered more money.
“I get it — there is a budget crunch,” she said, acknowledging Pitt’s lost revenue and costs associated with the pandemic. “But I just don’t want a lot of people to jump ship or employees to lose morale.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-758-4859.
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