UFAS Statement on the TTC Project, September 2021

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The University of Wisconsin System including the University of Wisconsin–Madison is undergoing a Title and Total Compensation project (TTC), under which 1,800 distinct job titles across UW System campuses are being reevaluated, streamlined, and simplified. While faculty are exempt from it, all academic staff and university staff at UW are directly impacted by this project, which involves divisional HR representatives deciding the title mapping for employees and then passing that information down to supervisors to share with employees—a completely top-down, hierarchical process. After years of multiple delays and extensions, TTC is now expected to be implemented on November 7, 2021. 

Although UW–Madison claims on the TTC website that the project “will help the university attract, reward, and retain staff” and notes that employee engagement has been attained via forums and listening sessions, in practice it is being conducted in a way that severely curbs employee involvement and agency. 

One of the most egregious issues in the retitling process is that salary ranges for the new titles will not be published until titles go into effect in November—AFTER employees have already been asked to sign a document agreeing to their new title. UW is withholding salary information as an obvious attempt to limit transparency, although the administration claims it is to ensure employees and their managers select titles based on content and not pay. The problem with this argument is that when job seekers accept a new position, they know its salary range. Salary range can also in and of itself be an indicator of a position’s suitability for an applicant, who may not otherwise be sure if it is entry level, mid-level, and so on. At UW–Madison, we have historically known salary ranges up front, as they are posted in the compensation toolkit on the OHR website and minima are included in individual PVLs so that potential applicants can determine whether the position is suitable for them. If this information is available to new hires, it should be made accessible to current employees as well during the TTC process.

The UW–Madison Office of Human Resources also failed to utilize the vast power, knowledge, and experience of UW–Madison workers when developing job groups, subgroups, titles, and Standard Job Descriptions (SJDs). They relied on HR professionals as well as small working groups of staff meant to represent the titles of hundreds of people, but this resulted in the development of SJDs with no basis in reality, that did not accurately describe the job of a single person working at our institution. It has led to the dissatisfaction of numerous workers who are now struggling to find a title and SJD that accurately represents the totality of their work. Why didn’t they ask employees who all do similar work to aid in developing their own SJD for their new title? Why the top-down secrecy, the exclusion of expertise, with no formal process for appealing SJD verbiage?

According to their website, TTC will “help [employees] see options for career development at UW–Madison.” However, one of the TTC’s impacts is the erasure of promotion based on experience and years of service. Pre-TTC, promotion within a title (for example, moving from a title of “Associate Researcher” to “Researcher” to “Senior Researcher”) depended on an employee’s semesters of service to the university, with commensurate raises accompanying each change in prefix. Post-TTC, there will only be “progression” within a title—raises in pay with no change in title. Employees who currently hold a prefix such as “senior” in their title will lose it. Pay raises will no longer be tied to semesters of service, and there are no clear, specific, and impartial criteria to replace this. Thus, progression will depend on the whims of the employer, removing a reliable path to career advancement for employees who do not cultivate favor with their managers. 

In addition, while OHR ostensibly has authority at UW–Madison over TTC implementation, in practice it is allowing the heavily decentralized schools, colleges, and divisions to create arbitrary criteria for assignation of titles that will simply further the inequity and haphazard titling the TTC project was meant to solve. For example, the College of Engineering is not allowing employees to be mapped to the “Graduate Program Manager” title unless they supervise staff, which is explicitly not part of the Title and SJD as written by OHR. Why isn’t OHR listening to employee concerns about the way the project is being implemented behind closed doors and ensuring equitable conduct across campus?

Lastly, the appeals process for employees who do not agree with their new title is severely stacked against the employee. Employees are allowed only to appeal their title, not the language in the SJD or their pay (even though the pay range for the new title will not be known to them until after they agree to it). The TTC appeals process includes a panel with a shared governance member, but OHR and divisional HR offices have revealed no further information about how these shared governance representatives will be selected. Will the employee filing the appeal get to choose? Will the shared governance representative even have expertise in the title in question? Are they there to advocate for the employee? The appeals panel also contains two HR professionals, meaning the very same people who decided the employee’s mapping, created the opaque, top-down process, and forced the inappropriate title on the employee, will have disproportionate power on the panel. 

As the labor union representing both faculty and academic staff at UW–Madison and the former UW–Extension, United Faculty and Academic Staff (UFAS) has been advocating for the interests of workers at UW impacted by TTC. UFAS submitted an Open Records Request for the salary ranges for all affected titles that will exist after the implementation of the Title and Total Compensation Project. Our request was denied on the grounds that the document is still in draft form and thus not subject to Wisconsin’s public records law. We continue to communicate with the Office of Human Resources with our feedback regarding the lack of transparency and our recommendations for a more equitable appeals process.

Additionally, UFAS has put together a tip sheet to aid employees in exerting the maximum amount of autonomy over this process and is prepared to provide support to those who need to appeal their title.

We recognize that human resources professionals at UW–Madison are overwhelmed with implementing the rollout of TTC; our question to you is—why did you make this so hard on yourselves by excluding workers?