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Saturday, June 12, 2021

UF Board of Trustees discusses OPS employee benefits, wages

Members of the Alachua County Labor Coalition have advocated for living wages for a number of years, but they’ve been putting in overtime after recent issues.

Hurricane Irma and Richard Spencer’s UF visit brought to light the problems of having no paid time off for the OPS workers.

A board meeting was held Thursday afternoon in Emerson Alumni Hall to discuss granting benefits to OPS employees.

OPS, or “other personnel services,” employees are people like medical residents and secretaries whose jobs are designated to last less than a year. However, over 25 percent of OPS employees have worked at UF for almost five years, according to a packet of statistics and testimonies the ACLC created.

Despite this, OPS employees are considered temporary, part-time employees. They do not receive benefits, such as sick leave and paid time off. On Wednesday, UF announced that the base wage would be raised from $12 an hour to $13 an hour, but the change did not apply to OPS employees.

Both UF Faculty Senate and UF Student Senate have passed resolutions calling for UF to move long-term hourly OPS employees into classifications that include benefits, but the decision rests with the UF Board of Trustees.

Five people were given time to speak to the board on issues at the university. Among them was Jason Fults, co-chair of the ACLC.

Fults recounted his time as a UF employee and the strain it had placed on his health and finances.

“I received no paid time off, meaning that I sometimes came to work sick,” Fults said. “I often worked alone in our office during university breaks because I couldn’t afford the unpaid time off.”

Over 20 percent of the visits to the on-campus food pantry are from UF employees, Fults said.

Alachua County Commissioner Ken Cornell talked about the benefits the community receives when employees are given a living wage and benefits. He said these benefits were seen when Alachua County raised its wages three years ago.

“We found that our employees were more productive, we found that our employee turnover was much less (and) we found that our hiring cost was much less,” Cornell said.

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By raising wages, Alachua County was able to stimulate the local economy and create more jobs, Cornell said.

“What you do today is good for the employee, is good for UF… and it’s good for our community,” he said.

Sheila Payne, ACLC member and resident, said employees are also required to pay into the alternate Federal Insurance Contributions Act system — an act that taxes employees’ payrolls to fund Social Security and Medicare — without any contribution to their Social Security.

“The employees have to pay in (to FICA), but the employer doesn’t,” she said. “I’ve never heard of such a thing at any other institution.”

Payne said Alachua County has the greatest income inequality in Florida.

UF and UF Health are the primary employers for the county and the eight neighboring counties, Cornell said. One in five people work for either UF or UF Health.

For more information about the Alachua County Labor Coalition, visit its website at laborcoalition.org or its Facebook page at facebook.com/laborcoalition.

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