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New options for employees aim to reduce workforce and workload

9 March 2009

Dear Campus Colleagues:

As Chancellor Birgeneau and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Breslauer noted in their letter to campus, we must take immediate action to address a significant budget shortfall and prepare for a possible next wave of cuts.

Budget CentralGet more budget news at Budget Central

We currently project a $60-70 million deficit for UC Berkeley in 2009-10.  This projected deficit consists of a $15 million shortfall from the 2008-09 fiscal year, a $10 million to $20 million permanent state budget cut in 2009-10, and $35 million in unfunded obligations such as utilities, health and medical benefits, contracted faculty merit and represented employee pay increases, and the anticipated restart of pension contributions.

Last month the Chancellor asked Vice Chancellors to begin working on their 2009-10 budget proposals by modeling strategies for achieving an 8% targeted cut and describing the impact of those strategies.  Across-the-board cuts are not planned; these models are for planning purposes.  We will evaluate these unit submissions, weighing the trade-offs and impacts of possible cuts, and then make the difficult choices of where cuts can be most effective with the least risk to campus. 

In the near term, however, it is clear that reducing the size and cost of our campus workforce will be a necessary part of addressing the budget situation.  How each unit ultimately makes these reductions will depend on its operational needs, and may include a mix of permanent and temporary actions.

In the coming weeks, some units will have no other option but to implement permanent staff layoffs. However, in most areas, planning is under way to take advantage of the following tools and programs, which are designed to reduce workforce expenses, either temporarily or through attrition, as a strategy to avoid permanent layoffs.

Strategies to Reduce Faculty Costs

Temporary Slowdown in Faculty Hiring

As announced earlier, faculty hiring has slowed down from about 100 hires a year to about 25 in 2008-09 and 2009-10. This should save us about $5 million annually in salaries plus a comparable amount in start-up costs.

Faculty Retirements

Department Chairs and Deans have been communicating to faculty about a retirement program that provides modest assistance to faculty making the transition to retirement status, along with a small amount of funding for departments to cover costs associated with losing a faculty member to retirement. 

Strategies to Reduce Staff Costs

The following programs have been designed to create short-term alternatives for reducing administrative and staff expenses:

Staff Hiring Freeze

Effective immediately, and until further notice, all career and contract staff positions, both with and without end-dates, are frozen.  Excluded from the freeze are positions that are fully-funded by grants and contracts, short-term, limited appointments intended as backfill for career employees on leave or otherwise limited to less than six months, and per diem appointments.  Currently open positions, except those for which a formal offer has been made, are also now frozen.

Some exceptions to the freeze may need to be granted.  To be considered for an exception, the petitioner must successfully demonstrate one of the following:

  • The position has significant impact on the teaching or research mission of the university; or
  • The position is critical to the functioning of the unit.

Justifications for filling a position must include an explanation of the unit`s efforts to:

  • Reconfigure remaining staff to do the work without replacing the position, including consideration of sharing staff with complementary units;
  • Change business processes so that fewer people are needed to do the work.

Requests for exceptions should be submitted to Deans or Vice Chancellors, and if accepted, will be forwarded to the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost (EVCP) for a final decision.  Detailed information and exception forms for managers and supervisors are available online at http://hrweb.berkeley.edu/scro.htm.

Expanding the START Program

To assist in reducing our budget while providing flexibility to employees, we strongly encourage the use of START, the UC Staff and Academic Reduction in Time program.

To make START a more appealing or feasible option for staff, the UC Regents have lowered the minimum amount of time that eligible employees may reduce their work hours (and corresponding pay) from 10% to 5%.  For a full-time employee, a 5% reduction would mean one day a month, two hours a week, or some other arrangement mutually agreed upon with the supervisor.  Under START, employees who voluntarily reduce their time and pay will continue to accrue vacation, sick leave, and service credit toward retirement at the same rate as before they reduced their time.

Currently, about 200 employees are reducing their time through START, saving the campus about $2 million annually.  If we double that number, we would achieve a $4 million savings that could help minimize layoffs.

The Chancellor and EVCP will automatically grant approval to any staff member who requests a 5% START option, as long as all eligibility requirements are met.  Employees must obtain their manager`s approval for the change in work schedule.  Details on how to apply for START are online at http://hrweb.berkeley.edu/policy/start2009/start2009_toc.htm.

Voluntary Separation Option

UC Berkeley is currently working closely with the Office of the President to develop a voluntary separation option for non-represented staff in PSS and MSP positions who may be interested in leaving their jobs.  Career staff may volunteer to be considered for separation with a severance allowance. 

As this program is developed and ready to be implemented, we will be in close communication with the campus community.

Staff Retirement Incentives

There will not be a university-wide Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Program (VERIP) similar to what was offered in the early 1990s.  After careful examination, and in consultation with UCOP, we have determined that a Berkeley-specific staff retirement incentive program is not feasible at this time.

However, employees who are considering retirement might be interested in gradually reducing their time through the START program as a way to phase into retirement while still building service credit.

Furlough Update

We have also explored, in consultation with the UC Office of the President (UCOP), the feasibility of implementing a faculty and staff furlough to meet some of our budget deficit.

The Berkeley campus will not implement this option in the 2008-09 fiscal year, but will continue to explore it with UCOP for possible implementation in 2009-10.  If a furlough is approved by UCOP, we expect that employees enrolled in START in 2009-10 would be allowed to use their voluntary time reduction to offset a mandatory furlough in that fiscal year.

Strategies to Streamline Work and Reduce Workload

As we begin to reduce our workforce, we have a parallel need to reduce the workload for the remaining staff.  If you have specific suggestions about streamlining work processes, please e-mail your suggestions to budget@berkeley.edu.

We have asked managers and staff to recommend specific actions the central campus could take to ease workload pressures.  From those discussions we have identified several measures now being implemented:

BluCard: Business Services is reducing the number of restricted items and simplifying cumbersome documentation requirements.  Administrative staff will find a shortened list of restricted items at http://businessservices.berkeley.edu/cards/authority/restricted. 

Course evaluations: Academic Personnel and the Budget Committee have eliminated some data entry requirements for professorial course evaluations.  For details, go to https://calmessages.berkeley.edu/archive/message/17883.

Web templates: Public Affairs is now providing templates to campus units to streamline the creation and redesign of web pages.  The templates are available at http://berkeley.edu/webstyle/readme.shtml.

Reimbursements: Through new imaging capabilities, Travel and Entertainment Services has made it possible to e-mail reimbursement requests.  For more information, go to http://travel.berkeley.edu/Reimbursement/RequestEmail.htm.

In addition to short-term workload reductions, the following highlights some of the longer-term efforts aimed at improving efficiency across our campus.

Campus human resource information system and business processes:  The HR Information System will be upgraded this spring to incorporate user-requested functionality such as improved online processing, features to support staff management and orientation, and online performance-management tools.

Academic personnel dossier system: A pilot program to support faculty case review and dramatically speed up the academic case process and reduce paper will roll out in summer.

High-performance computing:  A UC system-wide collaboration will roll out two new high-performance computing clusters to support research activities.  Berkeley will host one of two large computing clusters that will offer access to these shared research environments to Berkeley faculty later this year.

Campus financial system:  The Berkeley Financial System (BFS) will undergo a major overhaul during the next two years and replace many of our legacy customized screens and features with the latest software version, which includes online procurement functionality. 

Student systems: A comprehensive makeover of our student systems environment is under way to deliver a new platform during the next 18 months for all student applications, including financial aid, course approval, and course scheduling and calendaring, as the first in a series of new applications designed to improve the student experience dramatically.

In addition, I strongly urge units to take advantage of programs that assist with process re-engineering and other organizational effectiveness approaches offered by the Center for Organizational and Workforce Effectiveness. For information about the programs available, contact the center at corwe@berkeley.edu.

I know that difficult economic times bring personal and professional challenges for employees and supervisors, particularly for those facing layoffs.  The campus provides several programs and services that can be especially supportive during these times, including Worksite Wellness, Career Counseling, CARE Services, and the Work/Life Program.  We will also soon expand our career planning workshops for employees who are laid off.

Several information sessions are scheduled to discuss the budget and strategies outlined in this letter.  In addition, you can find more information on the Budget Central website, which will be updated regularly. 

I understand that campus employees may be anxious about our current budget situation and future.  As you read in the Chancellor and Provost's letter, I want to also assure you that we are on a solid path to meeting our financial challenges while continuing to achieve our campus mission, and that we are doing everything we can to help our community members during these times. With your continued collaboration and commitment, we will build a stronger university in the coming years.

Nathan Brostrom
Vice Chancellor-Administration

Supervisors: Please be sure to make copies of this letter for employees who may not have access to a computer.