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House passes bill dealing with higher education personnel


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After much debate on seniority during times of layoffs — and especially whether that person should be recalled after losing a job — a bill dealing with higher education personnel passed through the West Virginia House.

House Bill 2542 passed 61-38 with southern West Virginia Delegates Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier; Mick Bates, D-Raleigh; and Rick Moye, D-Raleigh; among the no votes.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said the purpose of the bill is to “empower institutions with more authority” in personnel decisions on campuses.

“It will empower higher education institutions to fulfill responsibilities to the citizens of West Virginia and, particularly, to college and university students,” Espinosa said. “It will maximize efficiency while maintaining high levels of productivity and services. Managing at the local level will reduce operating expenses at the state level while recognizing the important role that higher education employees play in solving the challenges facing the state.”

However, other delegates disagreed, saying it takes rights away from employees.

The two provisions that struck the most discord will remove bumping rights based upon seniority and eliminate the requirement to recall employees after being laid off. Delegates tried unsuccessfully to amend those provisions back into the bill the previous day.

“We have yanked the carpet out from under them,” Moye said. “That’s where we are right now. It’s the wrong thing to do. We need to treat employees with dignity and respect.”

The bill also eliminates certain human resources reviews by the Higher Education Policy Commission and Council for Community and Technical College Education.

It also redefines classified and non-classified employees and eliminates the rule that 25 percent must to be designated as non-classified employees. Nonclassified employees include presidents, chief executives, administrators and faculty. Those who are not classified are at-will employees unless otherwise established by the institution.

It also allows West Virginia University, Marshall University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and other institutions the option to apply to the HEPC or CTCC to develop their own classifications and compensation systems

Moye said he felt the bill has been an “all or nothing” approach.

“We couldn’t even get the right of recall,” Moye said. “I’m amazed…. Can we compromise? Can we help achieve this goal without doing away with all employee rights? We were told no. It’s sad that we are so dug in that it’s all or nothing.”

“Would you want to be treated this way? Is this the way you would want your children to be treated — where they could be kicked to the curb,” Moye later said.

Another opponent, Ed Evans, D-McDowell, called it “some of the most anti-worker legislation” that lawmakers could propose.

“This is telling the workers at higher education institutions that their opinions don’t matter,” Evans said.

Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, called the bill the “most mean-spirited piece of legislation” he has seen in some time. He said he had concerns that the bill would set precedent that would trickle down into public schools and government offices.

“They maybe spent their entire adult life giving their loyal, hardworking day for maybe 30 years, hoping to guarantee some security on the job in events of hard times — gone. The final blow, the one I think is the most mean-spirited part of the whole bill, is if you get laid off, they don’t even have to call you back,” Caputo said.

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, supported many aspects of the bill, saying she thought it would be good to get WVU and Marshall “out from bureaucracy from the HEPC.” However, she said she did not like changes regarding seniority, believing it would open the door to age discrimination.

“The problem with taking away seniority is it allows subjectivity to creep in and what that includes is age discrimination. It allows the authority to shed older, more expensive workers.”

Espinosa disagreed, saying protections currently afforded to employees by various laws would still be in effect.

He said that West Virginia is an outlier with regard to bumping and recall.

“Clearly, West Virginia is an outlier in allowing or requiring decision-making on classified staff solely on seniority. An individual even a year junior to a more senior employee who may have a stellar employee evaluation where the more senior employee has a mediocre documented performance evaluation would be given no consideration strictly on the basis of seniority.”

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