If morale was low among UGA employees affected by a new pay schedule and new overtime regulations, it’s now even lower as Christmas Day looms closer, and family budgets contain question marks where there should be dollar signs.
The university is reversing course for at least some of the 3,000 employees it moved from monthly paychecks to every two weeks starting last month. Others, though, are still in the dark about what a recent court ruling will mean for them.
An Obama Administration change to the Fair Labor Standards Act doubled the threshold for being eligible for overtime pay, meaning most types of workers who earn less than $47,476 would be paid overtime (or, for nonprofit and government workers, offered comp time) if they work more than 40 hours in a pay period. In practical terms, though, the way UGA implemented the change meant affected employees’ checks for the second half of November were delayed, in effect slashing their pay in half just before the holidays.
On Nov. 23, just a week before the law was to take effect, a federal judge issued an injunction. On Dec. 9, UGA human resources sent emails to an unknown number of employees informing them they would “transition back to exempt status in response to this injunction.” The email—obtained by Flagpole—told recipients they will also be moved back to a monthly pay schedule.
When asked for an interview to clear up some of these issues, university communications and marketing officials would only provide the following statement: “In response to the preliminary injunction of the federally mandated FLSA rule change and guidance provided by USG, staff in certain job classifications impacted by the salary basis test were notified that they would be moved back to an exempt FLSA status. UGA expects to review a limited number of additional job classifications over the next month to identify any other positions that should be moved back to exempt status.”
[UPDATE: After publication, UGA Executive Director of Media Communications Gregory Trevor said that 2,395 employees were moved from a monthly to a biweekly pay schedule, and 307 have been moved back. He also said that employees who have been returned to a monthly pay schedule were paid for the latter half of November in their Dec. 8 checks, and will be paid for the full month of December on Dec. 22.]
An earlier email, sent Nov. 30, informed recipients that if their salaries were raised above $47,476 to make them exempt from overtime requirements, those raises would remain in effect. That email also advised employees to continue reporting their time worked in order to calculate their Dec. 8 paycheck and told them that Human Resources would analyze staff positions and identify any that should move back to exempt status.
But with a final court ruling yet to come, “if the preliminary injunction is overturned and the new regulations go into effect, the University will be required to work with you to transition you back to non-exempt and the biweekly payroll,” the Dec. 9 email said.
A big issue now is that UGA has not addressed the loss of pay in November—which many employees sold leave time back to the university to make up. Those who were transitioning to biweekly checks would have received a third check in March, but if they’re back on the monthly payroll, they don’t know whether or when they’ll be made whole.
Recently, Annelie Klein, an affected employee, and Joseph Fu, an unaffected employee, teamed up with Tom Smith, an organizer for the Communication Workers of America union, to put together a survey asking affected employees about the impact the regulations were having in their lives.
Overwhelmingly, the nearly 160 anonymous responses described feeling “negatively” towards the implementation, “less valued,” “demoted,” “greatly” affected and “slapped in the face.” Those who aren’t looking toward the exit are pulling children from daycare, taking money from kids’ college funds, putting off mortgage payments and other bills, taking out loans, relying on family and doing whatever else they can to make ends meet. Mentally, employees reported feeling stressed, depressed and sick. Anxiety, loss of appetite, high blood pressure or sleeplessness plague many of those affected.
Fu believes that much of the university’s communication on this issue has been misleading, that for whatever reason some didn’t get the memo and many faculty and staff are afraid to speak out. “There’s not a peep on campus. People are intimidated, other people are oblivious, it’s nuts,” Fu said. “They [UGA] shaft the staff and buy off the faculty.”
Klein is also worried about the impact the changes will make on the local economy. “The people who had to pull their children out of child care, that’s two children out of the local child-care system. Significant in the local economy. And how many other people are having to do that? I’m going to have to cancel cable, I’m going to have to make all these changes. We’re being roped into making decisions about the food that goes into our bodies, entertainment, Christmas. We’re at a holiday season. It affects the economy.”
Here is a representative sample of responses to the survey:
How has UGA’s implementation impacted your attitude at work?
“The FLSA implementation has negatively impacted my attitude at work. The point of this law was not to regulate professional employees, but that is exactly what the law is forcing UGA to do with time keeping. Our entire department now has a negative attitude.”
“Aggravation. I've worked too long to go back to punching a time clock.”
“Basically, I work for a month, get paid for half of it, get a whole month of benefits taken out of what I get paid, have no paycheck and a whole month of bills to pay. You do the math.”
“Because my college and HR cannot agree on whether I should be exempt or nonexempt, I have completely lost allegiance to my college. I no longer care if the dean's office survives. I am suffering a complete loss of trust, which has resulted in me not being able to do my work.”
“Really I feel like our leadership doesn't value my work, and my inclination is to just come in, do my work and get out. A lot of the joie de vivre is gone. It’s hard not to be bitter.”
How has UGA's FLSA implementation impacted your financial security?
“My utility company and credit cards will not allow me to wait four months until I get the rest of my pay so I can pay those bills I previously paid without issue. This is a prestigious university, can we not figure out the simple math here?!”
“I will not have enough money this month to pay my mortgage, electric, water, daycare, insurance, food and gas. I don't [know] where to cut.”
“My November paycheck will go from approximately $1850 to $600. As I have two children in daycare (fixed cost), a mortgage (fixed cost) and other bills, this month is obviously going to be very tight. There won't be much left for savings, debt repayment or groceries.”
“I had to cash in 56 hours of annual leave, which I felt was wrong. As a UGA employee I have earned that leave time, and due to UGA's FLSA implementation, and the pathetic way UGA had handled it, myself and other employees have been left punished by having to cash in OUR leave time to pay bills.”
How has UGA's FLSA implementation impacted your physical, mental or emotional health?
“I’ve never felt more cheated or manhandled. Instead of putting the employees first here, the University System of Georgia has asked itself how it can pass the buck while still constructing new, worthless buildings. I don't want another giant living room on campus, I want my pay.”
“I have to really psych myself up to even go into work most days.”
“I feel that UGA could have implemented this MUCH better. Georgia Tech is a great example of correct implementation. They began early enough to allow three paychecks in December, thus relieving the financial hardship much [more quickly] than waiting until March to catch up.”
“I think the way UGA handled it is abysmal. The decision to wait so late to tell us exactly what to expect is inexcusable. [Being] given enough time to prepare could have significantly lessened the financial impact on many of us.”
“I understand this is a federal law, however my department is handling this so poorly it will more than likely lead to me leaving the position.”
“Please wish me and my spouse luck as we look for new jobs outside of UGA. Hopefully we can sell our house quickly, since we can no longer afford our mortgage, either.”