Wednesday, January 19, 2011

State Parks Audit 1/18/2011

UPEA attended a performance audit by the Legislative Auditor General on the Utah State Parks. The audit focused on measures to cut funding to state parks or eliminate some state parks altogether. Legislators are looking to make state parks more self sustaining and less dependent on the General Fund.

The Department of Natural Resources responded by saying they are taking a pro active approach to the audit and will try and find ways in which they can be more self sufficient. The department also state that state parks rough generate $67 million to the economy.

The audit will be sent to the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality Appropriation Subcommittee for further review. UPEA will be tracking this issue during the legislative session.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Paid Time Off May Replace Leave Programs

The Executive Appropriations Committee met on November 16th to discuss sick and annual leave benefits versus paid time off or (PTO). The committee heard a presentation on the differences between the two options and the fiscal impact of going to a PTO system. As of this moment, a bill has not been presented to the legislature for consideration. However, it is being discussed as a potential cost-saving measure. UPEA will continue to track this issue throughout the upcoming legislative session. For further information, including a copy of the report, please visit

Over the course of the past decade, several private entities have changed how their annual and sick leave systems work in an effort to streamline their leave programs. Many companies moved to a Paid Time Off (PTO) System that does not differentiate between sick and vacation leave. Employees are given a set number of hours a year that they may use in whatever manner they wish. If they do not get sick, they can use it all as vacation time. However, if they are sick frequently, PTO may end up being used for that purpose.

Such a system differs somewhat from the current system that state employees enjoy. Currently each employee receives a certain number of annual leave hours and sick leave hours, based on their years of service. Annual leave must be scheduled ahead of time and can be used for vacations, personal matters, etc. Sick leave can be used when an individual is ill or needs to go to a doctor’s appointment.

State employees also have a great benefit that they may use upon retirement. An employee may save their pre-2006 sick leave hours to purchase health insurance. Sick leave hours earned after 2006 can be cashed in upon retirement to be placed into a health savings account to use toward medical purchases. This benefit has been instrumental in helping productivity in the state of Utah, and ensuring that employees use their sick leave wisely.

Would a PTO program take away from this benefit? At this time, it is not known. However, UPEA is currently concerned about such a program because of the effect it might have on the current Sick Leave Benefit upon retirement. Also, if it does not impact current employees, will it be just for new employees? While UPEA is still seeking answers to this question, it is still cause for anxiety.

Many studies have indicated that when a company has moved to a PTO-based system, the leave hours given to employees has dropped, or cannot be carried over from year-to-year. UPEA’s concern is that employees will be negatively impacted by such a move. The report presented to the committee suggested lowering the amount of PTO hours that employees could earn to 130 hours per year. A current employee with less than five years of service earns 208 hours per year in both sick and annual leave.

UPEA is continually keeping in contact with legislators and other policy-makers that may potentially be close to this issue to ensure employees are protected and maintain the best benefits possible. As more information develops, UPEA will send emails or additional communications to its members.

Friday, October 22, 2010

High Deductible Health Plan in Works?

The Legislative Health and Human Services Interim Committee gathered together on 20 October, 2010 to discuss the State Employee Health Insurance plans. Senator Chris Buttars brought in Don Ruzicka, an independent insurance broker, to explain a proposed health insurance option for state employees.

Ruzicka discussed the costs associated with the current insurance plans that include co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance payments, premiums, and out of pocket maximums, stating that it is very complicated and continues to get more and more expensive year after year. The 3rd party pay system that is currently in place is not cost effective and incentivizes overutilization.

In his statement about what he sees as a marketable plan for the state, Ruzicka discussed a Qualified High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) that would simplify insurance and create positive incentives for health lifestyles and be more cost effective. In the HDHP, Ruzicka stated that the deductible would be somewhere around $2500 for an individual and $5000 for a family. After the deductible is met the co-insurance payment would be 100%, meaning that any additional costs exceeding the deductible would be covered.

In addition, a Medical Reimbursement Fund (MRF) would be set up by the employer of $1000 for an individual and $2000 for a family to be used to cover some of the deductible costs. For employees to reach their deductible with this contribution, the most they would spend would be either $1500 or $2500. Also, if an individual did not use their full amount allotted in the Medical Reimbursement Fund, the employer could elect to provide a taxable bonus to the employee with the excess funds.

Ruzicka stated that the plan could save the state as much as a third of what is currently being spent on the traditional plan.

When asked if a bill was going to be run to implement such a plan, Senator Buttars mentioned that he may run a bill or try to implement some type of pilot program.

Representative Brad Daw asked what the difference was between this and a HDHP with a Health Savings Account (HSA). Ruzicka answered that the money is locked up into the HSA, where the MRF could provide positive incentives through a bonus program.

PEHP was listed on the agenda to provide comment on this plan, but was not given an opportunity to share their views in the committee.

UPEA has a seat on the Health System Reform cost Containment Workgroup that meets monthly. HDHP/HSA plans have been discussed extensively in the workgroup. UPEA is currently looking into different plan designs that would benefit state employees with multiple insurance options. If there are any questions, please contact Christy Cushing at or (801) 264-8732 ext. 216.

UPEA Acts on ORS GAP Report Concerns

Over the course of the past few months, UPEA staff has been working with the Office of Recovery Services (ORS) employees and management regarding a new productivity measurement. ORS began tracking activity within certain computer programs in July, to measure activity and productivity. The measurement, termed GAP time, was applied to each employee’s job plan to maximize the use of resources to accomplish ORS objectives. As a result of not meeting the GAP measurements, several telecommuting employees were moved back to the office, while others lost their exercise privileges.

Despite 6 months of the ORS administration educating employees of the upcoming changes, with the implementation of the GAP report in July, many ORS employees became very concerned with their performance objectives. Several individuals expressed a lack of knowledge about the changes and altered their work habits in a manner that was not conducive to a comfortable work environment, which created low morale within the agency.

UPEA took the concerns of ORS employees to Department of Human Services Executive Director, Palmer Depaulis. In addition, Association staff member, Kory Cox, spoke to the Director of ORS and held a meeting to bring employee concerns to the table.

On 10/12/10, the GAP report was removed as a component of an employee job plan. While the GAP report will no longer be a performance objective on the annual performance plan, it will still be measured as a monitoring tool to ensure employees remain effective and productive. This news came as a welcome gesture, as it will ease many employee concerns and will allow individuals to concentrate on productive behaviors in the workplace, while not needing to manipulate their jobs in an unhealthy matter.

UPEA advises that ORS employees continue to document time away from their desks, and report mid-day personal leave time to their supervisors. The Association supports creating a positive work environment and believes that the change in measuring GAP time will improve employee morale.

UPEA encourages employees to work toward attaining a positive attitude toward future GAP measurements and other changes that may come as a result of the tough economic times. It is important, especially in this difficult economy and budget year, that state employees create value in their employment, perform their jobs, and become indispensible in their public employment.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Recommendation: Don't Privatize

The Utah Public Employees Association attended the Executive Appropriations today at 1:00 p.m. at the Utah State Capitol. The Public Consulting Group presented data on the feasibility of privatizing the Forensic Unit at the State Hospital; the privatization of the Woodland building; and privatization of the Transitional Living Center at the Utah State Developmental Center. The study focused on three areas of feasibility: Financial savings, organization and service consequences.

The study results for the USH Forensic Unit found $1.7 million in savings due to reductions in employee total compensation. However, an increase in staff turnover could negativity impact continuity and quality care for patients.

The USDC TLC & Woodland units would save $117,000 in gross savings through privatization. Savings from reductions to employee total compensation would increase staff turnover. However, it would also negatively impact continuity and quality care for patients.

The recommendation from the study is that it may be financially possible to privatize the units for a cost savings, but reductions in employee total compensation can adversely affect continuity and quality care for patients. The recommendation made by Public Consulting Group is that the privatization of the USH Forensic Unit and USDC Semi – secure Units should not be pursued.

Todd Losser
UPEA Representative

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

UPEA Endorses Herbert for Governor

Salt Lake City - The Utah Public Employees’ Association has announced their endorsement for Governor Gary Herbert and Lieutenant Governor, Greg Bell, during a press conference on Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.

The Utah Public Employees Association (UPEA) is Utah’s largest representative of public employees. Founded in 1959, UPEA has a history of selecting and endorsing political candidates based upon their willingness to work with public employees. Governor Herbert demonstrated this willingness and dedication to public employees during the 2010 Legislative session.

The association typically avoids endorsements based on political affiliation.

Jeff Horrocks, Chairman of the UPEA CAPE Committee, said, “Political affiliation often plays a role in labor politics, but UPEA carefully analyzes candidates’ willingness to meet with employees and address their concerns before offering an endorsement.”

The association’s Citizen Action by Public Employees, or CAPE, Committee voted to endorse Governor Herbert after interviewing both candidates. In addition, CAPE also reviewed the candidates’ running mates for Lieutenant Governor, which made a significant impact on the association’s endorsement.

Horrocks said, “State employees have already benefited from Governor Herbert and Lieutenant Governor Bell’s approach to managing the State’s workforce.”

Horrocks added, “Governor Herbert has given employees fair consideration during the 2010 Legislative Session. The Utah Public Employees’ Association values his experience and his fairness in managing Utah’s workforce.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Career Service Audit, Unexpected Conclusions

The Legislative Auditor General conducted an audit of the State's Career Service System to address legislators' concerns that poor-performing employees are difficult to dismiss. The audit highlighted Florida, Georgia and Texas as states that have limited merit systems, but failed to conclude whether or not Utah would benefit from a change.

The audit did conclude that managers have used poor judgement while conducting performance evaluations and while implementing discipline for employees. One glaring example from the presenter's PowerPoint showed an employee who was disciplined for downloading 52 pornographic images on a state computer, in violation of the IT Acceptable Use Policy. The employee was rated "successful" in an evaluation, despite the blatant violation.

Committee members commented that the audit highlights poor training of managers and the failure of management to use built-in discipline measures. Representative Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, went so far to say that the merit system was not on the chopping block, but that he would personally take action if DHRM cannot address the management issues raised by the audit.

UPEA believes that the years of hard work and relationship building with legislators regarding this specific issue, contributed to the positive comments regarding state employees and the merit system. While no action was taken specifically with the audit, the Committee sent the review to the Government Operations and Political Subdivisions interim committee for their input. UPEA will continue to monitor the Career Service Status issue as further information arises.

The recommendations of the audit included:
The Legislature consider the following options regarding the state’s career service system:
Maintain the current system with improvements.
***Adopt a procedure similar to that in the judicial branch, in which an employee could be dismissed after being formally disciplined twice.
***Implement changes that have been made in other states, including the following:
***Phasing out career service status for supervisors and higher positions.
***Phasing out career service status for employees who change positions within the state system.
***Requiring all new employees to be hired at will.
***State agencies require all new managers to attend the DHRM training course on how to be effective managers.
***DHRM place greater emphasis on encouraging all managers in the state to attend their training course “The Art and Science of Supervision.”
***DHRM consider whether management training should be required for all managers in the state.
***DHRM ensure all agency managers use Utah Performance Management.