Western Illinois University recently went through a major reorganization of its employees. According to the Western Factbook, WIU employs around 1,600 people. Only 39% of those jobs were classified as civil service last fall. Jeff Brownfield, Executive Director of the State Universities Civil Service System, believes that figure should be higher.
According to state statute, all university positions should be civil service, with only a few exceptions: Board of Trustees members, the university president, all vice presidents, faculty members, student workers, and principal administrative employees.
Brownfield said that the administrative exception is the most confusing and where a number of people have been wrongly classified.
Brownfield said that over time there has been a substitution of terms in which principal administrator has been applied to include academic professionals at college campuses. But, he said that according to state statute, “These positions should be administrators of the campus, not professionals who are working on day-to-day projects.”
The State Universities Civil Service System revised its procedures in October, 2018, to require all state colleges and universities to review campus positions to determine if any have been wrongly excluded from the civil service system.
Brownfield said there’s no specific deadline to complete the review. He described the effort as an ongoing process.
“It has moved more quickly here at Western Illinois University than it has at some of the other campuses,” Brownfield said. Western reviewed 271 administrative jobs in a matter of weeks and reclassified 179 to civil service on February first.
Brownfield said he encouraged Western to complete a review of positions to ensure all positions are correctly classified before any layoffs are announced.
“So that those employees would have the obligations that are required of civil service employment, but also then the benefits or the protections that are provided from civil service employment should there be the layoffs that I think unfortunately seems to be the writing on the wall from what our understanding is,” he said.
Civil Service Layoffs
Bill Polley, WIU's Interim Vice President for Administrative Services, said those employees recently reclassified will continue to receive their same salary.
"I think it's the fair thing to do for somebody who is doing the same job. It reflects the fact that this is really just a classification change, it's not a change in a working title and it's not a change in the job responsibilities or reporting lines. It's just a change in the classification, that's all," said Polley.
The layoff process can play out differently for civil service employees. Civil service employees accumulate seniority based on the number of years they’ve worked in their job. Western employees recently reclassified as civil service were given credit for their past work experience at the university.
In the event of a layoff, a civil service employee can use their seniority to bump another employee within the same job title who hasn’t been in the position as long.
There is no state standard on how much time an employee has to decide whether to bump, though Western has indicated it intends to set a deadline of two business days after the initial HR meeting.
According to state statute, all civil service employees are required to receive a minimum layoff notice of 30 days. That is a smaller window than what recently reclassified Western employees would have received as administrative employees. That employee class receives between three and six months notice depending on years of service.
Polley said despite the recent reclassifications, Western will stick with the 30 day notice period for all civil service employees old and new.
Polley said the review was a time consuming process and decisions were made thoughtfully. He said the process was done now to ensure that people who receive a layoff notice are afforded their rights, including bumping.
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