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UA changes furlough plan for staff and faculty, delays implementation to July 1

On Monday, weeks after University of Arizona officials announced that staff and faculty would face pay cuts and furloughs, the university announced changes to the plan, and shifted its implementation from May 11 to July 1. 

On April 17, UA President Robert C. Robbins announced furloughs and salary cuts as the university reals from "the extreme financial crisis" created by COVID-19. In the program, employees making up to $44,449 will be asked to take 13 days off over the next year, resulting in a pay cut of about 5 percent, while employees at the top of the scale making $200,000 or more will take a 20 percent pay cut.

Robbins said in April that the university anticipates losing more than $66 million by the end of the fiscal year, and the most credible projections show the university losing more than $250 million by June 2021. 

In an email to university staff Monday that was shared with TucsonSentinel.com, Robbins said that the modified program will shift how the university balances the furloughs for researchers, who may either hold academic year appointments or fiscal year appointments, as well as how employees making over $44,500 will receive their furlough time.

Researchers who hold academic year appointments are typically paid for nine months of salary, while fiscal year appointments are paid for the entire fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30 the following year. Researchers on academic year appointments will face furloughs based on a 1600-hour base Robbins said, while academic researchers will face a proportional cut based on their 2080-hour base pay. 

Like many businesses across Arizona, the state's universities have been hit hard by COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has infected at least 12,176 people in the state, and killed 594 people, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Robbins said that after the plan was announced in April, officials had "heard from many of you as to how we can improve the program," and university employees had "expressed concerns and shared proposed improvements regarding the program’s flexibility, complexity, and immediacy."

"Your thoughts and concerns have helped guide us in modifying the original plan," Robbins said. 

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The first change was a delay in the implementation of the furloughs, Robbins said. Originally slated to begin this week, the program will instead be delayed to July 1, because "many of you have asked for more time to prepare for the financial impact on your households, and similarly, unit leaders have requested more time to plan for reduced workloads and adjusted organizational operations,"  he said. 

This means furloughs will begin on the first day of the 2021 fiscal year, lasting until the end of next June. 

Most employees will face furloughs, and associated pay cuts. In the new program, an employee's annual salary will "reflect" the pay cut from the number of furlough days, which means cuts of 13 to 20 percent on most salaries. Part-time employees will also see their pay reduced. 

"Despite these improvements, the financial challenges the University is facing have not changed," Robbins said. "We do believe, however, the changes outlined above facilitate more predictable and evenly applied savings to the institution, while also providing greater flexibility and consistency for us all." 

Employees earning $44,500 or more participating in the furlough-based salary program will now receive a balance of "Personal Flex Time days –  the total days being the same as the number of furlough days in the original program." 

These days will be paid and employees, in coordination with their supervisors, will determine when to take them throughout the year, Robbins said. "More details, including scenarios capturing different faculty and staff examples, will be available on the Human Resources website later this week."

Administrators earning $300,000 or more will participate in the "furlough-based program," but will not receive flex time, UA officials said. And, Robbins said he along with the "most senior" university leaders began voluntarily taking pay reductions in March. "We will continue those pay reductions," he said.

Robbins noted that  employees in the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics will continue to participate in the program, and coaches with ABOR contracts, “and not previously subject to the original program” have volunteered to take pay reductions.

Robbins also said the UA was asking the Arizona Board of Regents to allow employees to keep more vacation time from one year to the next, so that vacation time earned this fiscal year could be used in the future.

During a press conference on April 30, Robbins spoke about the necessity of opening the university as soon as possible. While celebrating the launch of a program to test more than 250,000 people for antibodies to the disease—a sign that they've already been infected and are, researchers believe, now immune to the disease—Robbins highlighted that the furlough program could be modified based on new data, and if students return to the university. 

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"If we get students coming back paying tuition that gives us revenue to be able to run the university, we would decrease the furlough plan," he said. 

Robbins said that he particularly hopes that out-of-state students, specifically from California and Texas, return to the UA because they "really subsidize our in-state students." 

"We hope that they come particularly California and Texas students that could drive here and you know, if something were to happen health-related, they could drive back home potentially, but it's really important for us to get out of state students to come in to pay the tuition," Robbins said. "We can mitigate the furlough program, and we would love to be able to do that." 

In his email Monday, Robbins wrote that "we remain committed to continuing evaluation of the University’s financial position as circumstances develop to determine whether we can lessen the burden on our employees." 

"We know that some of you were already planning to take furlough days this week, and we thank you for your quick action to ensure savings to the institution this fiscal year. Human Resources is ready to assist both employees and supervisors in revisiting future plans and discussing best options under this modified program," he said. 

"Thank you for your adaptability, determination and compassion in fine-tuning this program so that we can achieve our goals and minimize, as much as possible, the disruption of our mission. I truly appreciate all your efforts to help our University survive and thrive during these unprecedented times."

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

UA President Robert Robbins waits to speak during a press conference at the University of Arizona to announce new antibody tests on April 30.