Bill Ballard, associate vice president for administrative and facilities services, recalls the first time he was allowed to speak to the UVM Board of Trustees as president of the Non-Academic Employees Council in the mid-1970s. It was the Buildings and Grounds Committee, but it was still a major step forward for the precurser to Staff Council and its outspoken 20-something president.
“Back then there was never even a thought of having someone from Staff Council at a Board of Trustees meeting or participating in Commencement,” said Ballard, who started working at UVM two years before the Council was founded in 1971. “The Council was about creating a constituency voice for staff, but also to give the administration someone to talk to about staff issues. Respect for the Council has increased dramatically over the years, and it now plays a major role in the decision-making process at the university.”
Staff Council is celebrating its 40th year of advocating for staff by hosting a Staff Art Exhibit in the Davis Center from September 13 through October 1, 2011. “Celebrate Staff! Celebrate Art!” will showcase the talents of UVM staff through art during Staff Appreciation Week. A reception with light refreshments is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 20 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Davis Center's Livak Fireplace Lounge, with the first 400 staff attendees receiving free water bottles in celebration of the anniversary.
“Staff Council has advocated on behalf of non-represented employees at UVM on a variety of key issues that have resulted in positive changes to health and dental coverage, salaries, working conditions, vacation and sick days, and other critical benefits,” said John Bramley, UVM's interim president. “For the past four decades, the Council has worked to give staff a voice in the decision-making process of the university by listening and responding to staff ideas and opinions and conveying them to the administration and directly to the president. I look forward to working with the current Staff Council during my tenure as interim president of UVM.”
The Council, which expanded in 2007 from 18 members to 36 to represent all units across campus, is one of five governance bodies recognized by the university, along with the Student Government Association, Graduate Student Senate, Faculty Senate and Board of Trustees. Staff Council doesn’t make university policy, instead relying on four standing committees (Compensation, Benefits, & Budget; Outreach, Assessment, & University Engagement; Personal and Professional Development & Occupational Environment; and Social) to submit recommendations and requests to administration for review based on the concerns and recommendations of staff.
Many of these recommendations have resulted in some of the more significant benefits for staff over the years, in addition to discounts on local products, services and events. Some of the Council’s most important achievements include the addition of a dental plan; an increase in sick days from 10 to 12 days annually and the ability to accumulate sick leave; two paid personal days and two additional personal days after 20 years of service; the creation of the Staff Emergency Loan Fund; bereavement leave not being charged against annual or sick leave and the inclusion of additional family members in the bereavement leave policy; increase in UVM's contribution to the retirement plan; a smoking policy; summer working hours (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) established year round; and the creation of Staff Recognition Week.
“The administration definitely responds to us,” said current Staff Council president Ida Russin, whose primary focus has been on retaining staff benefits including post-retirement medical benefits. “We’re immediately thought of to be put on important committees and to work on key initiatives, and the administration knows we’ll be knocking on their door if we’re not included. It’s a much stronger relationship.”