Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Shuffle, or, The Hidden Cost of Savings

With the budget situation continuing to worsen, we're often unable to replace people when they leave. When the people in question are full-time staff with relatively niche functions, things get complicated.

In the world of small private businesses, it's a matter of saying “Steve, you pick up this half of Mike's job, and I'll pick up the other half.” Or, “we just won't do that.” Or, “Steve, do Mike's job and your own.” Notice how short each of those solutions is.

What follows is a list of issues that come up when a unique staffer leaves a unionized public employer in a down year. It could also be titled “corporate managers are a bunch of sissies.” It works like this:

Back-office function done by one person. That person leaves. We don't have the money to hire. We have to reallocate that person's duties to other people. Various others have some competency in some aspect of the original job, though it's variable and scattered. Some are currently swamped; others are part-time and want to be full-time.

Some of the duties fall under a different pay grade. Some fall under a different bargaining unit. Some are grant-supported, and can only be changed in very specific ways, or with written dispensation from the grantor. Some duties fall under a different supervisor. Any of these changes have to be negotiated with the union/s (“impact bargained”). Does this constitute a minor change – and therefore something that can be done internally – or is this now a new position that requires a new pay grade determination and an external posting, complete with a search committee? If the latter, is the interim eligible to apply? What if s/he loses?

Making a change here would make sense, but we need time to figure it out. In the meantime we'll patch it. But patching it the easiest way sets a precedent we don't want to set. Solving it the right way would take a few months, but the person is out the door next week and things are happening.

The job descriptions need to be changed in HR. In midyear, the year's performance review criteria will have to be rejiggered to reflect part of the year doing job version 1 and part doing version 2. Any reclassifications have to be run through that process. Of course, reclassifications have to be consistent with statewide practice and any settled grievances.

The whole thing makes my head hurt. But it's a dance we've had to go through several times recently, and I foresee several more. All in the name of efficiency.

I couldn't make this stuff up.