On May 28, Portland State President Stephen Percy announced in an email there would be a reduction in hours for most part-time and full-time 12-month employees at PSU under Oregon’s Work Share program.
“Under our plan, all PSU employees who are eligible under the Work Share program will see a temporary 20% reduction in work hours, or one day a week for full-time employees,” Percy stated. “In addition to receiving their prorated wages from PSU, the state will compensate employees with state unemployment benefits plus additional benefits from CARES funding that continues until July 25.”
In other words, the Oregon Unemployment Department (OED) will be assisting employees enrolled in the Work Share program by making them eligible to collect partial unemployment while furloughed at either 20% or 40% of their work schedule. Further, employees who receive these Work Share benefits will be eligible for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $600 per week until July 25.
The university’s decision to participate in the Work Share program required agreements from both PSU’s American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) chapters. About 1,400 employees are on the program with reduced hours, according to Christopher Broderick, Associate Vice President of University Communications at PSU.
The program places all SEIU-represented employees, except those in the Campus Public Safety Office, all AAUP-represented 12-month employees and all unrepresented, unclassified employees on the Work Share program. Administrators and academic leaders who already took pay cuts without work reductions are exempt from the program.
Jodi Stiegemeyer, head advisor in the Engineering and Computer Science department, has been placed on furlough under the Work Share program. “I completely understand the university’s decision on this and I think it makes sense,” Stiegemeyer said. “If this is a mechanism that’s going to potentially impact the budget such that more people will be protected, jobs will be protected, then I’m hopeful.”
Jennifer Kerns, President of PSU’s AAUP chapter and assistant professor in the History department, is also optimistic about the program. “It is our ardent hope as a union that no future layoffs will occur due to the costs saved by the Work Share program and the CARES Act,” Kerns said.
While the 20% reduction in hours for most employees will save the university money, there are challenges involved with departments reprioritizing tasks to adhere to 4-day work weeks. “Work share employees must take the furlough time off work,” PSU’s Work Share Resource webpage states. “They cannot be required to ‘make up’ work that was not completed because of their furlough. However, supervisors can and should identify the duties that should be prioritized during work time.”
“I’ve been speaking to other AAUP colleagues in 12-month positions and I understand it has been difficult to prioritize work within the confines of this 20% reduction,” Kerns said. “Clearly, our advisors and counselors don’t want to short change students regarding their needs, but in order to comply with this program they have to take a significant portion of work off their plates. And I know it’s been really difficult for our colleagues in student-facing positions.”
When asked about how she has prioritized work due to reduced hours, Stiegemeyer became visibly emotional. “As advisors, we love our job,” she said. “We love working with students. And it’s a complicated, difficult time for students. It’s painful to not be able to get to everybody as quickly as we want, to see emails piling up, having to modify our work and things take longer than they normally would.”
In Stiegemeyer’s department, Advising and Career Services, every employee has been placed on the Work Share program. “Anybody who’s not teaching, really, is dealing with this,” she said.
With payday for the university coming up on June 30, Human Resources sent out an email to staff updating them on the program on June 24. In it, they shared that OED plans to start processing Work Share claims from the first week of June starting next week. This undoubtedly means PSU employees will be receiving their Work Share payments late.
This announcement comes on the heels of the revelation that many Oregon educators enrolled in the program still haven’t received their benefits.
OED’s latency in processing Work Share claims has raised concerns among PSU employees and union representatives.
“This is a burden for our academic professionals, our advisors and counselors,” Kerns said. “The reality is that 20% cut without any immediate compensation is going to be difficult on a lot of employees by July 1 when rent is due.”