At the conclusion of the legislative session in March 2021, Representative Christofferson (R-Lehi) formed a workgroup to discuss Governor Cox’s vision to modernize the state employee workforce. The workgroup included representatives from the Governor’s Office of Planning & Budget, the Department of Government Operations, the Department of Human Resource Management, the Utah State Auditor’s Office, Legislative Research & General Counsel, and UPEA.
The workgroup met in April to discuss career service, performance management, supervisor/manager training, compensation, and streamlining the current grievance process. The UPEA State Board gave input regarding the lack of funding, pay increases, training, high turnover, recruitment and retention of quality employees, and the difficulty of competing with other agencies and public employers.
COMMUNICATION WITH GOVERNOR COX
Based upon the recommendations from the UPEA task force, the UPEA State Board made a motion to formally support a performance-based compensation model, mandatory training for managers and supervisors, and streamlining the current grievance process. The State Board endorses these recommendations centered on the fact they will have an empowering and positive effect on state employees.
However, UPEA continues to express concern about eliminating career service protections for supervisors. On September 15, 2021, the State Board sent a letter to Governor Cox asking for his position regarding “at will” and career service employment. The letter stated, “These protections are in place to protect against political influence, safeguard fair hiring and termination practices, and preserve an employee’s ability to grieve an adverse job action.”
Jon Pierpont, Chief-of-Staff for Governor Cox, replied to the letter and stated that the Governor “understands that these discussions are central in the lives of many thousands of employees working on behalf of Team Utah and wants to communicate that our administration will continue to work alongside [UPEA] collaboratively and in good faith. We know that the work being done is helping to modernize our workforce and deliver a strong employee value proposition to our workforce. As this bill develops and the conversation continues, our senior representatives will carry forth the governor’s collaborative spirit, making sure to keep us apprised of developments continuously.”
Representative Christofferson made a presentation to the Government Operations Interim Committee on October 20, 2021, and outlined his draft legislation to give supervisors the option to move from Schedule B (career service) to Schedule A (at-will). The option will be a voluntary election for current supervisors – new supervisors will be hired solely as Schedule A employees.
UPEA Executive Director Todd Losser testified on behalf of the State Board and provided the following statement:
“On behalf of the UPEA State Board of Directors I would like to thank Rep. Christofferson, and the other participants in the workgroup, for their time and effort in discussing and recognizing the importance of public employees. UPEA has been involved with the workgroup for several months. UPEA also created an internal task force that conducted an in-depth overview of pay for performance, the grievance process, training, and career service. We look forward to providing additional input as we work through the final details of this bill.”
UPEA will continue to provide updates on the status of this bill including communication between the UPEA State Board and Representative Christofferson. It is important to remember that any potential legislation is considered a work in progress and UPEA will remain part of this process.
The important work of putting together Utah’s budget for the 2023 fiscal year is underway, as legislators meet with various stakeholders throughout Utah, and interim committees meet to discuss potential legislation for the 2022 session.
Over the past year, UPEA lobbyists are emphasizing the need to increase compensation for public employees. UPEA representatives have been meeting regularly with DHRM and state legislators to address the severe compression impacting employee morale, recruitment, and retention across all state agencies.
Utah public employees have proven their dedication and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to provide outstanding services to the citizens of Utah despite ongoing challenges. Due to high turnover and low recruitment, employees are taking on new positions and workloads to provide these critical services. Employees should be recognized in the form of a generous pay increase.
Governor Spencer Cox released his proposed budget Tuesday, December 7, 2021. The governor’s recommendations include a 3.5% salary increase for state employees, funding for the projected 6.7% health insurance increase and continuity of the 401(k) match ($26 a pay period match for employees). Additionally, the Governor’s budget proposed funding over $12 million for targeted pay increases for below-market positions. UPEA believes that targeted position funding is the most effective way to make a tangible impact.
The legislature will convene on January 18 for the 2022 General Session. UPEA will continue to prioritize employee compensation throughout the 45-day session and lobby to secure funding for the 3.5% COLA and recommended targeted compensation.
In March 1985, the Utah Public Employees’ Association launched the “Whirlwind Tour,” with the aim to publicize UPEA goals and show appreciation for public employees. Beginning at the Utah State Capitol Building, members set out to visit 25 different agency locations over 4 months.
Mark Mickelsen, UPEA membership coordinator, said: “Our purpose is to acquaint all public employees with the goals and objectives of the Association and to pay tribute to those who have supported our efforts for the past 25 years.”
The four-month tour was geared for employees who did not know about the services and benefits offered by the Association, but it strived to include all public employees, including current members.
In May of 1985, the Whirlwind Tour continued with many trips from Salt Lake County to the southern and eastern worksites in St. George, Cedar City, Price, Ephraim, and Vernal. In August of 1985, after 45 days of the Whirlwind Tour, UPEA had held 82 presentations and traveled more than 4,000 miles. UPEA staffers signed up 252 new members at the presentations, recruiting an average of 5.6 new members per day!
Flash-forward to today, UPEA representatives will embark on the 2021 Whirlwind Tour this August! Staff members are excited at the prospects of sharing 60+ years of UPEA’s services and benefits of membership with public employees in a big way. More details to come!
The Legislature funded a 3% COLA for state employees with additional funding for targeted increases. The Governor’s office is in the process of finalizing the list for the targeted funding increases. The Legislature also approved funding for the employer’s share of the $6.6 million PEHP increase and funded the 401(k) match (up to $26 per pay period).
At the beginning of the 2021 Legislative Session, lawmakers included a 3% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) into the base budget. The base budget includes budgetary items that the state of Utah is required to fund each year. It is the foundation that all other appropriation requests are built upon.
When the pandemic began the need to adjust to the uncertainty related to state funding became apparent. In May 2020, the Legislature pulled back funds in all areas of state government. When the legislature began the 2021 Session it included the 3% COLA in the base budget, this reinstated the increase for state employees.
During the 2021 legislative session, UPEA staff continued their efforts to educate legislators on the sacrifices state employees made to protect the safety of Utah’s citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. UPEA also advocated for the savings from the Program II sick leave unfunded liability of $12.9 million be placed in employee compensation. That funding will be used for the targeted increases in various agencies.
The compensation package for state employees did not include everything UPEA requested. However, the legislature prioritized necessary funding for targeted increases for positions that are paid below market.
UPEA successfully lobbied to protect the state’s career service system during the 2021 Legislative Session. Utah’s career service system, also known as the merit system, protects the jobs of nearly two-thirds of state employees by guaranteeing rights of due process and equality in the workplace. Dismantling or altering the career service system changes employment status to at-will. At-will status means an agency can dismiss an employee without warning as long as the termination did not violate state or federal law.
House Bill 280, State Employee Amendments, sponsored by Representative Kay Christofferson, would have eliminated the career service status for certain state employees.
In its original form, HB 280 would have changed the status of Schedule B employees who supervise one or more employees. Supervisory employees would choose to either keep their career service status (Schedule B) or convert to career service exempt status (Schedule AX). If the employee was promoted or transferred to a different supervisory position, the employee would become Schedule AX career service exempt, or at-will.
UPEA lobbyists discussed HB 280 with representatives from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget and with the governor’s staff. During these meetings, UPEA expressed its opposition to HB 280 and emphasized the importance of merit protections in state employment.
The association also communicated its strong opposition to HB 280 with Rep Christofferson. During discussions, the sponsor agreed to substitute the bill and create a task force of stakeholders to discuss state employee issues, including career service, performance evaluations, merit pay, employee turnover, and employee retention. UPEA was included in this task force along with members of the legislature, the governor’s staff, and other interested parties.
HB 280 2nd Sub died during the last days of the session. Although the task force was not approved, during the interim UPEA will continue its discussions with Rep Christofferson. UPEA will also create an internal task force of members to address the protection of the career service system.
In accordance with Governor Cox’s vision for greater coordination and state government efficiency, a series of bills dealing with state agency mergers and realignment were passed throughout the 2021 Legislative session. UPEA’s top priority during agency consolidation discussions is to ensure the protection of jobs, ensure transparency, and provide an open forum for public employee input.
“UPEA met with Governor Cox, and it is our understanding that agency consolidation will not result in a reduction of jobs. Utah’s public employees are considered the most efficient workforce in the country. UPEA will continue to work with the governor’s office and state agencies to ensure a smooth transition for public employees and to continue the gold standard we have established.” -UPEA Executive Director Todd Losser
HB 365, State Agency Realignment – Creation of the Department of Health and Human Services
HB365, State Agency Realignment sponsored by Rep Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, will transition the Utah Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Human Services (DHS) into a newly created single state agency – the Department of Health and Human Services. All functions of the two departments will be merged, with the exception of the Medicaid eligibility components that will be placed into the Department of Workforce Services (DWS). The bill allocates funding to transfer 10 FTE’s to DWS to perform the Medicaid functions. Rich Saunders, Director of the DOH stated “the purpose of HB365 isn’t to cut jobs, only to improve the services provided by these two departments. [Our goal is] improving the delivery of these critical services, mostly to our underserved and marginalized communities.”
SB 181, Department of Government Operations – Consolidation of the Department of Administrative Services, Department of Technology Services, and the Department of Human Resource Management
SB181, Department of Government Operations sponsored by Sen Ann Millner, R-Ogden, consolidates the Department of Administrative Services (DAS), the Department of Technology Services (DTS), and the Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) into one department – the Department of Government Operations. Miller explained that “any changes to positions will not be done through a reduction in force. It would just be done through [attrition].”
HB 346, Natural Resources Entities Amendments – Increases Collaboration between the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Environmental Quality
HB346, Natural Resources Entities Amendments sponsored by Rep Casey Snider, R-Paradise, moves the Office of Energy Development into the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and splits the Division of State Parks from what will be called the Division of Recreation. The bill sets up a coordination council between the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Environmental Quality. The council will have a mandated monthly meeting. The legislation also includes a long-term study to be conducted by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) to look at redundancies and overlap between the departments for possible future consolidation.
All agencies involved with consolidation will have until December 1, 2021, to present a transition plan to the Governor and the Legislature. This timeline gives the Legislature time to review the plans, address any issues during the 2021 Legislative Session, and adjust appropriations before implementation on July 1, 2022.