Staff Council discusses flexible work model amidst vaccine mandate discussion


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Pitt’s Staff Council spent their June meeting discussing the possibility of a flexible work model as Pitt returns to in-person instruction in the fall, as well as announcing new officers and reflecting on the council’s accomplishments over the last four years.

By Dhara Patel, For The Pitt News

In the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pitt adopted the Flex@Pitt model, which allowed faculty and students to attend classes virtually, remotely or both. Now that Pitt plans on returning to in-person instruction in the fall, the discussion of a similar model is in question.

Mark Burdsall, assistant vice chancellor of consulting services, said while it was difficult to discuss and develop flexible work models at the beginning of the pandemic, Pitt faculty, staff and administration have learned to openly discuss and encourage flexible work models.

“If we look back to prior to February 2020 in terms of flexible work, it’s almost like a 180,” Burdsall said. “Before, you had to take a lot of steps to try to get any kind of dialogue around possibilities. Now, we’re saying as a University, we want that dialogue to happen.”

Pitt’s Staff Council spent their June meeting discussing the possibility of a flexible work model as the University returns to in-person instruction in the fall, as well as announcing new officers and reflecting on the council’s accomplishments over the last four years.

According to Burdsall, Pitt employees are encouraged to communicate with their supervisors about their workstyle preferences — whether they want to work in person, remotely or a hybrid of both. Supervisors are also encouraged to consider their employees’ comfort levels and discuss the possibility of implementing a flexible work model in their respective departments.

The council’s meeting follows a University-wide discussion regarding implementing a vaccine mandate for students, faculty and staff in the fall. While Pitt’s Faculty Assembly, Senate Council and Student Government Board support the mandate, Pitt currently has no plan to require vaccinations in the fall.

Lindsay Rodzwicz, Staff Life Committee member, said Pitt should consider the pandemic’s disproportional impact on women, minorities and those of different socioeconomic statuses when discussing a “flex” policy.

“The pandemic has had different impacts on women, minorities, people of different socioeconomic backgrounds,” Rodzwicz said. “As we move forward with the formal flex policy, we should be cognizant of that. Within the University, there are so many different supervisors, and it’s going to be very hard to make sure that it’s equitable amongst staff depending on who their supervisor is.”

In response, Burdsall said the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is open to consulting with and supporting staff members through the process of deciding what work model would best fit their needs. Burdsall also said any individuals with health concerns can consult with Disability Resources and Services to help in deciding what flexible work models work best for them.

But Burdsall said the departmental decisions regarding the availability of flexible work is a “business need,” and may not satisfy an employee or supervisor.

“It really is a business need,” Burdsall said. “It’s not necessarily accommodating someone’s personal needs, because that is where you’re going to end up being inequitable. We’re willing to provide resources and willing to have dialogue, but not everybody will be happy with the outcomes.” 

The council also announced the new committee chairs and executive positions, with Angela Coldren serving as the next president, Kenny Doty reappointed as executive vice president and Yvonne Brewster as the vice president of finance. 

Elections for the vice president of public relations and parliamentarian will follow suit this week, and voting participation rates reached a record high due to the new online format.

Council members can now join the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee, which recently became a standing committee. Standing committees — including Staff Life, External Relations, Operations and Staff Relations — ensure that council members can vote and decide upon policies that impact Pitt staff and faculty.

The Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee serves to promote equality and justice within the council, as well as within the larger Pitt community. Members of the EDI committee focus on education, outreach and providing council members with the opportunity to broaden their knowledge on topics such as systemic racism and sexism.

Andy Stephany, outgoing Staff Council president, closed off his last meeting by addressing the numerous accomplishments the organization has made over the last four years.

Stephany said the council helped adopt paid parental leave and volunteer/community service approved absences. He said the council fostered discussions regarding advocacy, a tobacco-free campus, Title IX, carbon neutrality and better benefits during the pandemic, including a University-wide Temporary Voluntary Sick Day Bank, where staff and faculty can donate sick days or request additional sick days.

Council members were curious about the status of the raise pool — one component that goes into determining the cost and availability of raises in salaries. The percent increase that the pool will receive for the year is based on various components such as the state appropriation, expected tuition revenue, and financial aid. Despite nearing the end of the fiscal year, Stephany said there has been no update in the status of the pool.

The University Planning and Budget Committee issued its recommendation to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher of what the proposed operating budget should consist of. A large component of this budget is the raise pool. Stephany said Gallagher previously indicated that student enrollment increased recently, an encouraging sign for the raise pool, according to Stephany.

“This is a positive marker in terms of revenue which helps determine what the final raise pools may be,” Stephany said.

According to Stephany, annual state appropriations are a component of the pool, but the final appropriation has yet to be confirmed. Stephany encouraged all Council members to confer with state representatives and senators, as he said a large component of the raise pool lies up to the hands of the state

Stephany spent the last minutes of the meeting thanking his colleagues, as his four-year presidency came to an end. 

“We’ve accomplished a lot,” Stephany said. “And it’s not just me, it’s the whole organization. We’ve had the great opportunity to together hold onto the steering wheel and guide the organization forward as we build relationships. My sincerest appreciation.”