Beneath the surface of UF’s seemingly well-run campus are the people who make it happen. We are talking about the secretaries, the adjuncts and even the custodians who work every day to make sure UF students have the best experiences possible.
Unfortunately, these indispensable members of our campus community are often not treated with respect. These employees, lumped under the blanket term, “Other Personnel Services,” or “OPS” workers, are defined by UF as at-will, temporary labor. However, the U.S. Department of Labor defines a temporary employee as “an appointment lasting one year or less.”
OPS workers at UF do not receive paid vacation or sick leave. They are all mandated to pay into the alternative Federal Insurance Contribution Act system, with UF contributing no money to their Social Security. They are generally prohibited from making up hours lost during times UF is closed, since the workers have strict weekly hour limits. This reduction in pay can leave many scrambling to make ends meet and has the ability to leave others without health insurance if their hours fall below 30 per week because the Affordable Care Act requires workers to maintain a 40-hour workload per week.
A common misconception about OPS positions is they are mainly filled by students for a short period of time. However, about 68 percent of them are older than 25. Furthermore, the average non-student OPS worker has been employed at UF for nearly four years. As follows, many OPS employees are actually older adults, many of whom may support families and dependents, who have held their positions long term.
Of the 3,320 non-student hourly OPS workers who were employed in 2017, 612 had started before 2012. This means nearly one in five workers had been employed for close to five years and were still not receiving common benefits. Of the 25 workers in this category who started at UF before 1980, only two have state health insurance. None of these employees will be eligible for retirement benefits.
Compensation is another concern. Although UF’s human resources department has made a commitment to a “fair and competitive compensation strategy,” OPS workers are excluded from UF’s salary increase plans. This might be particularly challenging for student workers, many of whom, according to the UF Student Financial Affairs office, rely on their wages to pay their tuition and fund their general livelihood.
UF divides hourly workers into two categories: OPS and TEAMS, or Technical, Executive, Administrative and Managerial Support. Those employed through TEAMS are subject to perks such as higher wages and overall better treatment. This division has led to OPS workers being frequently forgotten about and left behind.
In 2016, when UF passed a policy change moving the starting wage for TEAMS workers to $12 an hour, OPS workers saw no improvement for themselves.
The Alachua County Labor Coalition is calling for an end to the mistreatment of OPS employees. The group has submitted resolutions to Faculty Senate and Student Senate requesting UF to move OPS employees to TEAMS or another classification with benefits when employed in a position for longer than one year.
This, to us, does not seem like too much to ask for and we hope that you, dear reader, are able to support this resolution and help to get OPS workers the treatment they deserve. As a university that boasts its “top-10” status, UF should be held to a high standard not only in terms of academics, but also in terms of its overall operation. It should be respecting its workers and ensuring everyone in the UF community is treated fairly.