February 10, 2023

HRDAC pushes to gut university worker protections

The State University Civil Service System (SUCSS) was created to ensure the fair and equal recruitment, retention and development of university staff and provides critical protections to workers in the university system.

But it’s come under threat by a push from the University Civil Service Human Resource Directors Advisory Committee (HRDAC) to gut the system’s protections.

Last year, several universities began an effort in the state legislature to make changes to the law which governs SUCSS. Council 31’s lobbyists were able to quash the bill before it advanced. But now it appears the universities will try again in the new legislative session.

One of the key responsibilities of SUCSS is to ensure equal access and opportunity for all job applicants, making sure that the most qualified applicants are ultimately selected for the job. The system was installed as a safeguard against the corruption and patronage that used to run rampant.

One of the biggest changes the HRDAC is pushing for is completely scrapping the testing system which determines the rank of all applicants seeking a civil service position. The tests consist of training and experience evaluations that make sure the applicant is qualified for the job.

Ben Riegler, a senior library specialist and president of Local 698, which represents more than 400 staff at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says he’s grown concerned about the motives behind the HRDAC’s push for fewer safeguards.

“It will give them the ability to be much more arbitrary in who they hire, instead of the people who have the best scores,” Riegler said. “It’s obvious that this would be a negative to the university, but also for the employees. If this goes through, we would not have the most talented, most qualified employees working with us.”

Another area of concern for AFSCME members is the HRDAC’s stated desire to scrap requirements in SUCSS that limit the university system’s ability to hire temporary employees. Under the current system, a university can use temporary employees for up to 900 hours of labor, after which that employee will no longer be allowed to work on a temporary basis.

If those limits were lifted, it would allow universities to use temporary employees as often and for as long as they would like instead of hiring full-time employees.

“They want the flexibility to hire who they want, when they want, without any restrictions or oversight,” Riegler said. “They’re saying, ‘We want to do things how it works best for us as an employer, not what’s best for the state nor for the taxpayers. We just want to do things the way we want and the fewer restrictions on us, the better.’”

They also want to get rid of protections for workers who are in grant-funded positions, which would allow them to be laid off or fired for any reason at any time with no warning.

Council 31’s lobbying team has remained vigilant for any movement in the state legislature on any possible changes to SUCSS.

“SUCSS is crucial to upholding the integrity of the state university system, and even more important to the workers who rely on the system to protect them and ensure equal and fair treatment,” said Dominic Watson, Council 31’s legislative affairs specialist. “When Council 31 succeeded in defeating changes the first time, we knew the proponents were bound to try again. When that day comes, we’ll be ready.”

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