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Despite objections from staff, UM System Curators approve paid time off policy

The UM System Board of Curators on Wednesday approved a new paid time off policy for staff despite objections from many employees.

The changes, which were approved unanimously, will take effect in January 2024. The new policy will affect an estimated 13,000 workers at all four UM System campuses.

Several public protests were held in recent weeks, after UM System administrators disclosed details about the proposed changes at a curators meeting in June. Most recently, union members from Laborers Local 955 joined employees and students Aug. 29 in a protest at the University of Missouri campus, holding signs with messages such as “good benefits boost morale” and “reward loyal staff.”

Workers say they object to the plan because the maximum amount of paid time off employees could receive for various reasons would be decreased by up to 10 days per year.

“We remain opposed to all cuts to wages and benefits,” Andrew Hutchinson, a representative for the union, said in a news release posted after the vote. “This is a significant loss, not just to our union members, but to 13,000 workers across the state.”

Currently, MU’s paid leave program separates various reasons for leave — vacation time, sick days, personal days and holidays. Staff receive up to 12 vacation days, 12 sick days, nine holidays, four personal days and four days for winter break — a total of 41 days.

But under the new policy, there are no categories for the kinds of days employees can have paid leave for. Instead, vacation days, sick days and personal days are pooled into one bank of a minimum of 18 days, and staff may use those days for whatever reason they choose.

The nine holidays and four days of winter break would remain the same, adding up to 31 total days of allotted PTO, 10 days fewer than the current package.

Those calculations are based upon the number of days off allowed for hourly employees with fewer than five years of time on the job. Employees with more years of service would be eligible for additional days.

The proposed paid time off policy would apply to all four campuses in the UM System: MU, Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, University of Missouri-St. Louis and University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The curators approved the policy during a regularly scheduled meeting at the UMKC campus.

Curator Keith Holloway said the vote came after months of work.

“We have taken it very seriously,” Holloway said. “I wanted the employees, staff and public to know that there’s a lot of work and a lot of consideration has been given to these changes.”

In recent weeks, virtual information sessions were held and a webpage was formed to give employees the opportunity to ask questions and communicate their concerns about the new paid time off policy.

“As people went to the information sessions and learned more, they became more comfortable and liked the plan better,” Marsha Fischer, UM System vice president of human resources, said in a news conference. “We think that the new plan will better meet the needs of the current labor market.”

The new program includes plans for short-term disability, parental and caregiver leave.

For example, short-term disability leave will provide 60% income replacement for up to 20 weeks in the event of a serious health condition.

Parental leave will provide 100% income replacement for up to four weeks within a year of a birth, placement or adoption of a child.

Caregiver leave will provide 100% income replacement for up to two weeks if an employee needs time to care for a family member with a serious health condition.

Employees also have the option to save their paid time off days from one year to another and use them at a later date. Employees can accrue up to two times their annual paid time off days.

For example, an hourly employee with less than five years will earn 18 paid time off days and can accrue up to 36 days.

MU construction projects

The curators also approved several construction projects as part of the MU campus' capital plan.

Repairs to the Virginia Avenue garage are expected to cost $16 million with money coming from internal loans and reserves from MU Parking. The project includes strengthening 93 column foundations at the garage, which is expected to require demolition and excavation of structures in the ground floor.

Currently, there are several flaws in the garage, including a joint separation.

The garage remains open for now but will be closed during the renovation, which is expected to be completed by the fall of 2023. There is not a set time for the garage to shut down yet, UM President and MU Chancellor Mun Choi said.

Curator Greg Hoberock wanted to know more about the failings of a parking garage designed 20 years ago. Executive Vice President of Finance and Operations Ryan Rapp, who presented the proposal, said MU has asked engineers to look into the problem and would bring new information to the board.

Hoberock also expressed displeasure at the way the project is carried out. Instead of a bidding process, the proposal called for teaming up with a project manager with an engineering firm in Kansas City so that the renovation process would be shorter and more flexible, Rapp said.

“The use of Construction Manager-at-Risk – I think most of this board knows how I feel about that – I think we use it too much, I just think we need to plan better and get it done,” Hoberock said.

Other capital projects:

  • The Medical Science Building is scheduled to be renovated with a budget of $20 million from federal and state funds. It is set to be completed by June 2025.
  • The demolition of Mizzou North, an unoccupied building on Business Loop 70, is expected to cost $10 million and be completed by early 2024.
  • A new thermal plant is scheduled to be built at Research Commons area for an expected cost of $4 million. The plant is expected to provide up to 75,000 pounds per hour of steam capacity for heating the campus. It is expected to be completed in the start of 2024.

MU school changes name

The curators also approved a proposal from MU’s School of Health Professions to change its name to the College of Health Sciences.

Stephanie Reid-Ardnt, the school’s associate dean, said the new name would “better (describe) the comprehensive scale and scope of (the school’s) mission and academic enterprise.”

She added that the word “school” is more often applied to institutions focused on one academic discipline while “college” is for those focused on multiple disciplines and degree levels. A name change could facilitate the expansion of the school as well, such as its interest in founding a school of public health in the future, she said.

The school currently has seven departments, a school of social work and 15 nationally accredited programs, as well as a psychology residency program. The school’s research also increased nearly five times in value since 2018 and it carried out different clinical services like speech therapy.

UM finances

The total UM System assets across the retirement, endowment and general pools now stand at $11 billion, a slight dip from the $11.2 billion recorded last year but nearly double from a decade ago.

Overall, the retirement plan now stands at around $4.3 billion and the endowment pool now stands at $2.1 billion.

The board approved distributing a $15 million investment dividend from the general pool, with MU set to get two-thirds of it for its Mizzou Forward plan. The distribution was based on how much each campus contributed to the pool, Rapp said.

The actual returns on the retirement plan, endowment and general pools all decreased by a few percent respectively this year, due to inflation and the end of central bank stimulus, according to the investment performance review.

Market returns were “particularly bad” this year. “The global equity market and the global bond market, particularly over the last six months of the fiscal year, they both went down,” Chief Investment Officer Thomas Richards said.

However, relative to other peer public pension and endowment plans, the UM System outperformed them by around 10% respectively and had approximately $710 million less unfunded liability.

Ellie Lin is a senior Journalism student at the University of Missouri. She’s studying Cross-Platform Editing and Production with an emphasis in Multimedia, UX and UI Design.
The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.