They work multiple positions but get paid for one: Civil service staff share their stories

By Kallie Cox, News Editor

Chloe Schobert | @chloscho_art2020

Editor’s Note: The identities of two of the sources in this story are anonymous because the civil service members involved feared retaliation.

About a third of SIU’s civil service staff have left campus in the past 10 years and now many employees are taking on the responsibilities of multiple positions or even whole departments. But many are not getting paid for all the additional work.

In 2010 the university had 2,335 civil service staff members and as of Feb. 25 2020, it had 1,599 according to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Daily Egyptian.

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At SIU, employees who take on extra responsibilities can request a desk audit or within classification salary adjustment in order to receive compensation for the extra tasks.

Employees who have attempted to apply for this compensation were often denied due to “budgetary concerns,” went for months or even years without hearing back about their request, or both. 

The DE interviewed civil service employees about their experiences with salary adjustments and their stories are told below. The DE also reached out to the vice-chancellor for administration and finance and the director of human resources for comment. The university said it was confident it had followed its “policies and practices.”

Jim Bigogno and Deborah Harmon

Jim Bigogno and Deborah Harmon are unrepresented civil service staff members who work in the college of Mass Communication and Media Arts. Their attempt to gain a within classification salary adjustment spanned five years.

Between roughly 2012 and 2015, both Bigogno and Harmon’s responsibilities changed significantly, Bigogno said. Harmon is the college’s financial manager and Bigogno is the administrative assistant in the dean’s office.

Each time Harmon and Bigogno applied for their salary adjustment, they had the full support of the dean of the college, from former dean Dafna Lemish to the current dean, Deborah Tudor.

“Debi inherited responsibility for four or five support service people at the department level that were not replaced, I had assumed responsibility for bits and pieces of several positions that hadn’t been replaced,” Bigogno said. “With the support of our dean, our boss at the time, we submitted a request that our positions be audited.”

Bigogno has taken over job responsibilities that were previously filled by an Office Support Specialist, an Associate Dean, an Assistant Dean and a Coordinator for Recruitment and Retention. Harmon has taken on all budgetary responsibilities and expenditure controls for the three academic departments in the college.

Dean Deborah Tudor identified a net savings of $233,000 beginning in 2012 and an FY 18 savings of $119,000 as a result of Bigogno taking on the roles of two AP positions and one civil service position. 

Tudor identified $153,000 in savings between 2009 and 2014 from Harmon taking over the duties of three civil service positions and another $119,000 in FY 18 from two civil service positions and one AP position that didn’t have to be filled as a result of Harmon assuming additional responsibilities.

They were told they would be ineligible for a reclassification that would account for their added duties but that they should apply for a within salary grade adjustment, so they did, Bigogno said.

They were denied this adjustment because of “budgetary concerns.”

“This was during a period of time where Illinois went two years without a budget, so we think, ok we understand the budget, everyone is sucking it up,” Bigogno said. “However, we then began to hear anecdotally that certain people were getting salary adjustments. So we looked into it a little bit, just informally, and sure enough, there were probably half a dozen to a dozen different people that had received salary adjustments.”

They then filed a Freedom of Information Act Request asking for the number of salary adjustments granted within the past two years. They were denied this request and the university said it would be unduly burdensome because over 4,000 employees received the adjustment, Bigogno said. 

“We looked at each other and our jaws dropped because at that time, almost on a weekly basis, we were getting written communiques from the chancellor’s office that ‘things are tough, someday we’ll have a budget, suck it up.’ I’m paraphrasing but the message, very clear message being, these are dire financial situations that we’re in,” Bigogno said. 

Bigogno and Harmon then narrowed their request to within the provost reporting lines, which includes all the academic units, and within the vice chancellor for administration’s line, which includes housing and grounds. This showed nearly 1,000 were granted, Bigogno said.

“We’re looking at each other going whoa, now we’re really confused,” Bigogno said. “Our performance is outstanding according to our performance reviews, we documented savings, our boss, the dean, is rigorously supporting that this take place, a thousand other people have gotten raises, what’s different about us?”

Bigogno said he and Harmon then began to investigate and were given “the royal run around.” They made inquiries to various departments and were told it’s on this desk, or no it’s on that desk or their applications were sent back and they were told to resubmit them when the budget was less precarious, Bigogno said. 

“Despite our inquiries we never got feedback or an answer that ours had been denied,” Bigogno said. “So we said we want to hear from you that you’re denying our request. Not sending it back unprocessed and please submit it at a future time, but we want to know you’ve denied it, because then we have something tangible we can work with.”

Bigogno and Harmon continued to file FOIA requests and make inquiries regarding their salary adjustments. 

“I summarized our research, we put together a package that we then hand delivered to the then Chancellor Montemagno, Matt Baughman, his chief of staff, Judy Marshall, Jennifer Watson who’s the director of human resources and whoever else we threw in there,” Bigogno said.

They included the results of the FOIA requests that they made and copies of the policies and procedures that are in effect at the university, with the reports going back 10 or 15 years saying that this is a problem, Bigogno said. 

“We want to be part of the solution,” Bigogno said. “We represent over a 1,000 people on this campus and we think this is an issue. […] This evolved kind of midway through this process from one in which it was just our issue, we want what’s owed us, to hey this is a bigger issue and this is not right.”

It is not fair that someone in an area which reports for the vice chancellor for finance and administration gets a salary increase if they do more work but someone who is in the provost reporting line and also doing more work can be denied a request for more, Bigogno said.

Harmon and Bigogno then contacted the ethics office and were sent from there to labor relations.

“So we had a meeting with Tracey Bennett, labor relations and we said we want to find why are we being treated differently?” Bigogno said. “Why are there inconsistencies in how these policies are applied? And that’s when she came out and said, consistency is defined as within a vice chancellor reporting line.”

Harmon and Bigogno were then sent back to Matt Baughman, the chief of staff in the chancellor’s office.

Harmon said they did eventually receive their increase.

“After three years of persistence and then the last point I think was the Attorney General’s office where we submitted and it came back to campus and we decided we’re just going to start again, submit the paperwork we sent it over, again nothing, and we kept pushing the issue,” Harmon said. “I don’t know what the decision was as far as why they ended up giving it to us.”

Bigogno said they received their increase but unlike other increases, theirs was not retroactive.

“We’re making the argument it should have been approved July 1, 2015. Well the paperwork we submitted, and was signed off on by our boss, had July 1, 2015,” Bigogno said. “ It was scratched out and there was an initial there that said effective date of approval. Which was 3-4 years [of lost pay].”

Bigogno and Harmon filed another FOIA request to see if this was normal and out of 85 records only his and Harmon’s had the date scratched out with the later effective date added, Bigogno said.

“We are not asking for special treatment, we are asking for the same treatment thousands of others have received over the last 6 or 7 years,” Bigogno said.

Bigogno and Harmon asked lawyer and MCMA professor, William Freivogel, to write to Baughman on their behalf. Freivogel told Baughman, “Debi and Jim are two of those loyal, hard-working SIU employees who are the foundation of this university.  I’ve worked with Jim for a decade and Debi for 14 years. As they work at their stations day after day, they shouldn’t feel the sting of this past injustice.”

Baughman wrote back: “I have reviewed all of the documents you provided and had multiple conversations about all of this with senior staff. There are a number of inaccuracies and misperceptions in your understanding the situation involving Jim and Debi.  Unfortunately, as these details are related to personnel matters, we are unable to engage with you on specifics about such details.”

Bigogno and Harmon asked Baughman what was inaccurate. He replied “We simply hold a different view than what was conveyed by Bill.  We are confident that university policies and practices were followed in your cases.” 

The DE reached out to Baughman and he declined to comment. Rae Goldsmith, spokesperson for the university reached out instead to say their practice is not to comment on personnel matters.

“The university follows established policies and procedures when responding to any request for salary adjustment,” Goldsmith said. “Please also note that all employees have access to formal channels for challenging or disputing a university decision.”

Cathy Lilley

Cathy Lilley is a civil service staff member who works in the graduate department of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts and is represented by the Association of Civil Service Employees (ACsE) and is the former president of the union.

When Lilley came over to the college, her position was moved from full time to part time and she had to assume extra responsibilities. 

“I came in and I had over 20 years of experience, so I didn’t come in off the street, I came in with a lot of knowledge,” Lilley said. “The dean tried to get me a within classification salary increase and they said they weren’t giving them right now so I didn’t get a raise.”

Lilley said she thought denying these adjustments was common practice.

Lilley said she and her husband are both older and financially comfortable but she feels she has proven herself and earned her way.

When the university denies requests for adjustments, its says to go home early or to only do what your job description says, Lilley said. 

“I’m still doing a full time job because if I didn’t these students wouldn’t graduate, they wouldn’t get admitted, they wouldn’t register for classes, they wouldn’t have their questions answered which could affect their dissertation or thesis defenses,” Lilley said. “While administration, when questioned in that respect in the past, has said ‘well when your hours are up, you leave,’ well I don’t have that kind of a heart.”

Lilley said she is not going to do that to students.

“I could walk out the door and yes it would make an impact on administration if students didn’t get admitted, if students didn’t graduate, but that’s students that are being affected, not administration,” Lilley said. “I just don’t have that kind of work ethic or that kind of caring.”

The university has lost over half of its civil-service man-power over the last few years but the work still has to be done, Lilley said. 

“It’s like home and I care about the university,” Lilley said. “ […] We do what we can. I follow up on inquiries and I’m very good to the grad students here, if you ask any of the grad students they’ll say yes, Cathy helps any way she can because I care. But they tell us to increase enrollment while they do things like increasing tuition, but they haven’t increased the quality because we’ve lost quality by not getting faculty replaced.”

Lilley said this is a kind of barrier the university has.

Lilley said she would like civil service staff to sit down at a table with an administrator such as the provost to discuss ideas. She said the open houses and open forums tend to be a bunch of people in a room asking questions and getting a sort of run around.

“We are the people that are here everyday talking to the students working with the students but administration doesn’t necessarily talk to us or ask us, they make decisions but they aren’t in the “trenches” like we are,” Lilley said. “[…] if they didn’t make their decisions so much on what they feel but if they really listened to us it would go a long way and it would help morale so much because right now I just feel like we’re not listened to.”

Lilley said she worries about SIU.

 “I see so many businesses in Carbondale that have been here for ages and ages closing down or for sale because our student population has declined so much and I think that just sending out cards or emails or having open houses, I mean all of that stuff is great but I think that the administration just needs to come and listen to us and hear what we have to say and the ideas,” Lilley said.

Lilley said she worked with her boss to come up with ideas on recruitment and would like to share them with administration if they would listen. 

“I’m here for the students. I’ve been here long enough that I could walk out the door and it not financially affect me but I love the students and they are what keeps me here,” Lilley said.

Source A

Source A is a non-represented civil service staff member who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation. 

A filled out a salary adjustment request four times and was not approved.

“Recently in the last four years since the whole raise freeze, if you will, has happened it’s been virtually impossible,” A said. “Before that, they would do these out of seasons without any difficulty if you had added duties or a role had changed […] that is not the case now.”

Eventually A decided to file for a desk audit themselves instead. The audit was filed in October of last year and it was approved at the end of January.

The DE asked how long it took for the university to contact A about each request for an adjustment. A said they never heard back from the university regarding the request.

“As far as I know it’s still pending,” A said. “I know they’re not because I never got a word and that’s why the persistence was there that’s why where are you at with it? What are they doing?  Has a decision been made? And then I would contact HR myself just asking if they had received anything and they of course said no so then I’d go back to my supervisor and go from there but no I still out of all of them never gotten a decision back.”

A said they didn’t just take on extra responsibility, they took on a department. Their department went from a staff of six, to just A.

“The stress has been a lot,” A said. “When that position was eliminated that was now five years ago so I’ve had that all on my own for five years; […] it was an area that I wasn’t familiar with so I had to muddle through and figure it out with no guidance or very little and so a lot of stress.”

A said this was supposed to be a temporary assignment until the university filled positions but it has turned permanent.

At one point, A was actively seeking another job but ultimately decided to stay at SIU.

“I’ve always loved my job,” A said. “I’ve been in my position for several years [and] I’ve always loved my job. Like everything else it gets stressful at times, it gets busy and chaotic but during that period it was really bad to where I just really didn’t have that drive anymore.” 

Morale on campus is terrible and across campus people are leaving, A said.

“As people left, positions weren’t getting filled or they were getting filled with a grad [student]. Which a grad is fine and they work just as well as staff but they graduate. They come and go so it’s not like having a full time staff which you had before then,” A said. “So the morale just got really bad. […] Some just couldn’t take it anymore or they had a supervisor that was just not willing to listen and it became a big problem.”

A said the administration should work on communication and filling positions.

“First, I know money is an issue and that’s always the topic and that’s always why they can’t do this or they can’t do that, but fill positions. Or at least some,” A said.

If the university could get back to even half the staff that it had and communicate, people would be happier. They wouldn’t mind coming to work and wouldn’t mind taking on the additional responsibilities, A said.

A also said appreciation was an issue. 

“The main goal is just remembering we’re here, we come in every day and we try to keep everything going smoothly,” A said. “So just a little bit of recognition and not a pat on the back just let me fill that position or let me give you an extra staff person temporarily, something I think that would go a lot further.”

Source B

Source B is an unrepresented civil service staff member who asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation. 

B has worked at the university for over a decade. They said their overall experience with equal pay and raises at SIU has not been good.

B said they requested a salary adjustment but never got one and the last raise they received was the first in five years.

“I am actively seeking other jobs on and off campus,” B said. “The pay is so terrible and it’s highly unfair that Carbondale is supposed to be the flagship campus and we are stretched really thin on our workloads, we are overworked and underpaid and our sister campus, SIU Edwardsville, they get raises regularly and they’re all doing great.”

B said taking on the extra responsibilities of positions in their department that were not filled has taken a toll on their health both mentally and physically.

“It’s a lot to take on and I see others who get compensated for taking on more job responsibilities yet I have yet to be compensated,” B said.

B said civil service staff should be considered key stakeholders in the university and there is a disconnect between civil servants and the administration.

“Have more transparency and open conversations with the civil service staff,” B said. “Civil servants are a very important part of this university. We keep the university moving, we keep people coming to work because we process the payroll […] they need to give us a little bit more credit and take a vital interest in our concerns when we have them.” 

University Response

The DE reached out to university spokesperson Rae Goldsmith for comment and was directed to speak with Judy Marshall, SIU’s vice chancellor for administration and finance. 

Marshall said the approvals of salary adjustments are left up to the discretion of the individual vice chancellors.

When asked why some of the adjustments were denied due to “budgetary concerns,” Marshall said that is also up to the individual vice chancellors. 

“Our state funding is still 5% lower than what we got in 2015,” Marshall said. 

Marshall said the university is still considering what will happen to civil service staff as the minimum wage increases.

“That is being considered as we do future budget planning,” Marshall said. 

The DE then spoke with Jennifer Watson, the director of Human Resources.

Watson said HR is only responsible for reviewing the requests and ensuring all the necessary paperwork is available. She said they are not responsible for approving adjustments.

“They can have a conversation with us and we can explain the process but ultimately it has to go through the higher administrative channels,” Watson said.

During a question and answer session with the DE and River Region, new system president, Daniel Mahony, said he has assembled working groups who will look into the dissatisfaction of employees at SIU including that of civil service staff.

“One of those is focused on employee satisfaction and employee morale, so they won’t just be looking at that specific group but they will be looking at all our employees on what things we can do as far as salary suggestions,” Mahony said. “There’s probably other things we could do as well to  make the situation for our employees better.”

News Editor Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected]ian.com or on Twitter at @KallieECox.

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