Employee benefits to see few immediate improvements

This post was written by assistant news editors Ellie Smith and Ryan Lasker.

After a group of faculty and staff found that GW’s employee benefits are not competitive with those at peer universities, officials announced they would only adapt one of the committee’s recommendations.

The benefits task force recommended in a report last month that the University absorb any rise in health insurance premiums above the 3 percent employee pay raise, restore tuition benefits to 2014 levels and expand health care funding to align with inflation. Administrators agreed to keep the premiums at about 3 percent but will maintain tuition benefits at current levels, University President Steven Knapp announced during a meeting of the benefits advisory committee earlier this month, according to a University release.

Knapp created the group following an uproar from faculty members after officials announced last September that GW would roll back its tuition benefits this January, saving the University about $750,000. Those savings would help limit how much out-of-pocket health care costs rose last year.

“We are committed to acting on the task force’s main short-term recommendation, to keep the premium increase at or close to an average of 3 percent for employees,” Knapp said in the release. “Above all, we want our plans to be competitive so that we can attract and retain the best possible faculty and staff.”

Andrew Zimmerman, the president of the Faculty Association and a history and international affairs professor, said it was a “relief” that the task force recognized that benefits for GW employees don’t measure up to other university’s benefits.

“For the most part, everyone in the top administration was denying what we were able to show with our figures,” he said.

But while the University is tackling health care premiums for employees, administrators are not addressing two other aspects of the task force’s short-term focuses — tuition benefits and retirement benefits.

Zimmerman said that what was most “striking” about Knapp’s response “is how much of his own at the report of his own task force he chose to ignore.”

The group also proposed measures like capping maximum salary increases, freezing discretionary bonuses and forgoing supplemental University retirement contributions to the highest-paid employees in order to make the recommendations they set out possible. Members of the group, which included six staff members had six faculty, had a May 1 deadline to evaluate short term issues, including tuition benefits, retirement plans and health care, and will continue to work on longer term goals about the overall compensation of faculty and staff through December.

Joseph Cordes, an economics professor and a member of the benefits task force, said health care benefits are more straightforward to analyze and will be harder to change, as health costs continue to rise nationwide.

“The biggest issue is still the question of what to do with the situation of health care costs, because in all likelihood they are increasing more rapidly than merit pay increases,” Cordes said.

Merit pay, which includes salaries and wages, are generally rising at about 3 percent while health care costs are rising at a rate of up to 8 percent, Cordes said.

Members of the Staff Association said last month that while they agree with other proposals by the task force, they should also include tuition reimbursements for employees enrolled in degree programs prior to Jan. 1 who were affected by the change in tuition benefits earlier this year.

The group of staffers also sent out a newsletter following the release and said that they find the decision to reduce tuition benefits for staffers is a “cynical disregard for GW’s own recent commitment to shared governance.”

Robin Kuprewicz, a department operations supervisor for the University and a member of the Staff Association, said in an email that the group plans to have a town hall with administrators next month to clarify the decision to roll back those benefits.

“As of now, the administration has not yet formally communicated the decision on grandfathering to staff who were impacted and we have heard reports that some offices are advising staff that they will be grandfathered,” she said.

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