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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Republican-controlled committee blocks UW System pay raises in approved pay plan

The Joint Committee on Employment Relation held a public hearing Tuesday to deliver recommendations on the 2023-2025 state compensation plan.

On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled state Joint Committee on Employment Relations (JCOER) blocked 4% of University of Wisconsin System employee pay raises in the approved 2023-24 state compensation.

The two-year state budget initially included funding for 6% compensation increases for all state employees including UW System employees, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison

This decision comes after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, announced plans in September to prevent pay raises for 41,000 University of Wisconsin System employees, with employees anticipating a 4% increase in the 2024 fiscal year and a 2% pay increase in the 2025 fiscal year. 

Employees systemwide have voiced concerns for their livelihoods and financial stability as a result of the potential decision during protests at UW-Oshkosh and in Madison. 

The GOP-led Joint Committee on Employment Relations, of which Vos and Senate President Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, are co-chairs, must approve the funding. 

However, JCOER did not take up those pay raises at its executive hearing. This decision comes after months of heated public debate over diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts at colleges.

Vos said that the UW System has operated with too much impunity in creating job positions and has promoted an “ideological agenda.” 

“All this mumbo-jumbo about saying somehow we're against the university system, we're trying to actually get some kind of control for the taxpayers,” Vos said, saying that the UW System adds too many “bureaucrats” with taxpayer dollars. 

The Republicans weren’t in full agreement, though, on not taking up the budget. 

Shortly after the hearing, Sen. Howard Markelin, R- Spring Green, said in a press release that he was “very disappointed” that the compensation plan to increase UW employee pay did not have a scheduled vote. 

“The custodians, executive assistants, food service providers and local faculty at UW Platteville have very little to do with the politics of the university system,” he said. 

Marklein encouraged Vos and Kapenga to schedule a vote “as soon as possible.” 

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Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard, D-Madison, lambasted Vos’ resistance to DEI and JCOER’ move to hold the pay raises “hostage,” expressing how Republicans have used this issue as a talking point to fight against the “woke Madison agenda.” 

Vos urged Agard to check with UW System employees on their attitudes toward university leaders and chancellors creating positions. 

“There is one agency in the state government that is allowed to create positions outside of the legislative process,” Vos said, highlighting the legislative process that other agencies go through in adding positions. “That’s the UW System.”

Vos said he’s met with UW System leaders and proposed providing pay raises for UW System employees if “[the UW System] does not increase the number of positions without the Legislature’s authority.” 

He said the initial reaction from the UW System was that it would “rather not have the raises for our employees” over “any kind of control by the Legislature over the number of positions.”

Democratic Minority Leader Greta Neaubuer, D-Racine, said her offices have been “flooded” with requests to approve the compensation plan and argued state employees feel like “pawns in a larger game.” 

Neubauer noted that roughly 50% of state workers are full-time equivalent employees under the UW System.

In an email statement to The Daily Cardinal, UW System President Jay Rothman said it is “unprecedented to withhold pay for tens of thousands of working families as was done today.”

“While we are beyond disappointed, we are not going to give up being advocates for the work they do — because it is simply not right to leave these families behind,” Rothman added. 

UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin released a statement Tuesday afternoon criticizing JCOER’s decision. 

The withheld pay raises “defied both reason and longstanding legislative tradition,” Mnookin said, adding that UW employees were “separated” from other state employees.

Mnookin said JCOER’s choice harms people who contribute to UW-Madison’s success and “help move Wisconsin and its economy forward,” such as food service employees and researchers.

“I, along with Universities of Wisconsin leadership, strongly urge members of the state legislature to work toward a fair and swift resolution,” Mnookin added.

Vos said he will meet with UW System representatives later today to discuss further.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 1:49 p.m., Tuesday, October 17, 2023, with an email statement on the blocked pay raises from UW System President Jay Rothman.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 8:00 p.m., Tuesday, October 17, 2023, with a statement from UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin.

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Ava Menkes

Ava Menkes is the state news editor at The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple stories about Wisconsin politics and written in-depth about nurses unions and youth voter turnout. Follow her on Twitter at @AvaMenkes.

Liam Beran

Liam Beran is the Campus News Editor for The Daily Cardinal and a third-year English major. Throughout his time at the Cardinal, he's written articles for campus, state and in-depth news. Follow him on Twitter at @liampberan.

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