A voice for staff, a link to decision-makers

UC Berkeley staffer Steve Garber will begin a one-year term as chair of the Council of University of California Staff Assemblies (CUCSA) on July 1. CUCSA was founded in 1974 to provide a platform for non-represented staff to communicate with UC decision-makers on important systemwide issues. Garber, who works as an administrative manager in the Educational Technology Services unit, joined the campus in 2001 as operations manager for MBA admissions at the Haas School of Business. His campus career also includes managerial stints in Human Resources and the Office of the Chancellor. Garber spoke with the NewsCenter about the staff organization, its advocacy efforts and his new role as chair.

Q: What is the Council of University of California Staff Assemblies?

Steve Garber

Berkeley staffer Steve Garber begins his one-year term as CUCSA chair on July 1. (Roibín Ó hÉochaidh photo)

A: CUCSA is the voice of non-represented staff across the UC system, working in concert with the president and administrators to create programs that improve the working conditions, careers and lives of UC staff. Each campus in the UC system has its own staff assembly or association — here, it’s the Berkeley Staff Assembly — to promote the interests of staff at the campus level and to provide career development and networking opportunities.

CUCSA focuses on staff issues at the systemwide level and brings together two delegates from each of the 10 campuses, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Office of the President. We meet on a quarterly basis with UC President Mark Yudof to discuss issues, provide guidance and present recommendations that bring a valuable staff perspective to the table on issues of policy and practice that impact non-represented employees.

We have several issue-specific working groups that develop recommendations in different areas each year. This year, one group is concentrating on the demographics of non-represented staff and distributions across race, age and gender.

Another working group is looking at what’s happening with the retirement bubble and how that’s going to impact staff. We’re also evaluating what happens to staff as they move through their careers to see whether we can map a typical career progression. If we can’t figure out answers, we look at what data isn’t being collected and develop recommendations to address that.

Q: Why did you become involved with CUCSA?

A: The time I spent working in human resources exposed me to a whole range of issues that affect staff and their families. Now, working through the staff assemblies, I honestly feel like I’m influencing policies and issues that are important to staff and impacting their lives in a positive way. Talent management is a particularly important topic for me. Throughout my professional career, I’ve always been self-directed in looking for opportunities to learn and grow. I believe everybody deserves opportunities to develop in the workplace, and while I agree that you need to own your own career, often we need help and guidance to get started. From my perspective, the university has a responsibility to support staff access to development opportunities.

Q: As incoming chair of CUCSA, what’s the most pressing challenge you face from an organizational standpoint?

A: Our level of recognition among staff has certainly been an issue. In the past, CUCSA focused more on working with the administration than the local assemblies and, as an organization, we haven’t been very good at getting our name out there. Now we’re engaging more with individual assemblies to provide support on specific issues and working to raise our profile among staff at the campus level. We need to make people more aware of who we are and what we do and then convince them of the importance of the organization in order to get them involved.

CUCSA on Campus: June 6-8

UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab will host CUCSA’s next quarterly meeting, beginning Wednesday. Day 2 at Boalt Hall includes a series of presentations (Operational Excellence; UC Regent Frederick Ruiz; education benefits and demographics) that are open to campus staff. For more information, visit the Berkeley Staff Assembly website.

Q: How do you propose to do that?

A: One of the ways you do that is by highlighting our accomplishments. In January, for example, UC launched a new systemwide job-search website that allows staff to search and apply for open positions across all locations. That came out of a CUCSA recommendation to UCOP outlining the need for a centralized search resource.

In the same area, it came to our attention that not all campuses offer career-counseling services for staff. So we’re working with UCOP to implement a new systemwide program that will complement existing campus services. In the area of educational benefits, we’re assessing staff utilization of the tuition-remission program. We’re also developing recommendations for a reduced-tuition program for dependents of UC faculty and staff like that offered by California State University.

At the same time, we need to do a better job of getting the word out there about when we’re coming to the different campuses for our quarterly meetings as well as letting people know who their delegates are, because if you have something to say, they are the ones who can to give voice to that message.

Q: When it comes to more pressing policies and practices, what impact can an advisory body like CUCSA have on decision-making?

A: Ultimately, we don’t have control when it comes to decision-making, but just being part of the conversation can influence outcomes. President Yudof has demonstrated that he respects our opinion as a highly professional staff organization and values our input. If we have something to say, we say it. We put forward as strong an argument as we can, but we are non-confrontational and strive to work with the administration in achieving our goals.

It takes time to change the direction of a large ship. As long as we’re moving in the right direction, that’s the most important thing.
– Steve Garber, incoming CUCSA chair

Q: How would you characterize those goals?

A: Salary, benefits and job stability are perhaps the three most important issues for staff, so a lot of the work we do is directed toward the immediate needs and long-term concerns of staff across those areas. In the context of Operational Excellence, we’ve focused a lot of our attention on the impacts of administrative efficiencies and what these major changes really mean for staff on a day-to-day basis. At the same time, we engage the administration in conversations about what a performance-based culture looks like, because we want staff to be recognized for their good work and rewarded for their contributions as well as have opportunities to advance in their careers.

At our last meeting, for instance, we discussed how last year’s merit program went, the pros and cons of merit-based increases versus cost-of-living adjustments and so forth, and [Yudof] has asked us for recommendations on what that could or should look like this year. We’re about to see a 1.5 percent increase in staff retirement contributions, which basically equates to a cut in take-home pay, and that’s definitely something we’ve highlighted in our conversations on salary. He might not be able to do what we ask but we know that we’ve been heard, so in that sense I feel like we can have a direct and positive impact.

Q: As incoming chair of CUCSA, what issue tops your agenda for the coming year?

A: This year CUCSA got a performance-evaluation compliance and auditing initiative added to President Yudof’s “project tracker,” which he uses to monitor progress on various proposals, reports and recommendations. This is an important issue because of the recent changes in layoff policy, wherein performance evaluations can be used as a criterion in laying off staff. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from staff and assembly members across the different campuses and we’ve tried to relay that to the administration in a coherent manner.

Staff don’t have a problem with performance being used as a criterion for layoffs. However, people don’t have confidence in the performance evaluation and management systems that we have in place. In particular, there is concern that the process can be subjective and that supervisors lack adequate training.

Our goal here is to help create a process that people can trust and that is viewed as fair to everybody. The compliance and audit effort is only the first step and I’m hopeful we can make further progress on steps two, three and four in the coming year and beyond.

Q: What, specifically, is being done to boost confidence in the process?

A: UCOP Human Resources will visit all 10 campuses, LBNL and UCOP and pull 30 personnel files at random to check that performance evaluations are up to date — no more than one year old. HR will then conduct in-depth reviews of 10 evaluations at each location to assess standards of compliance and quality as well as collect information from the parties involved. Looking ahead, we’ll need to analyze the information collected during the audit to uncover any deficiencies that exist in the evaluation process and developing a strategic plan to address those issues.

As a manager with experience in human resources, I understand the difficulties and complexities involved here and the need to work incrementally. It takes time to change the direction of a large ship. As long as we’re moving in the right direction, that’s the most important thing.