Date Effective: MAY 2001

  Labor-Management Relations-Historical Perspective

Classification and Pay System
Since the mid-1970's, the Montana University System has utilized a classification system for the majority of staff members that was developed by the State of Montana Department of Administration for state agencies. Seven University System bargaining units represent employees covered by this classification system (i.e., MPEA, Teamsters, Laborers, two AFSCME units, Montana Nurses Association, and College of Technology Operating Engineers).

The state's classification system is codified in state statute and updated at the conclusion of negotiations among state agencies and applicable bargaining units. The University System is excluded from both these negotiations and the statutory provisions.

The University System adopted the state's classification system in large part because the Montana State Legislature appropriates funds for staff wage increases based on negotiations between stage agencies and bargaining units that represent their employees. Despite the fact that the University System has separate bargaining units, the end result has historically been for the System to simply pattern bargain the state's settlement in order to remain within the funding allocated by the legislature.

Following is a historical view of pay increases granted to University System non- academic staff members:

Montana University System - Salary Increases
Fiscal Years 1986-2001

Fiscal Year

Classified Employee Increases

































*Based on $25,000 + 3% + 20 cents per hour (2080 hours) = $26,166
**$26,166 + 3% = 25 cents per hour (2080 hours)

As the overall legislative funding to the University System has declined, so has the level of funding provided by the legislature specifically for wage increases. In 1999 the legislature allocated to the system 63 percent of the dollars necessary to fully fund staff pay increases. In the most recent session, adjourned in April 2001, the legislature allocated only 49 percent of the funds needed by the University System for pay increases not yet negotiated by the University System but agreed to by State of Montana agencies. Therefore, the remainder of required funding will almost certainly come from student tuition increases. While the student government representatives were supportive of staff pay increases during the recent legislative session, their support became lukewarm as they realized the likelihood of tuition increases in order to fund staff pay increases. As a result, students are expecting greater accountability from staff as their tuition dollars fund a larger percentage of staff salaries.

Staff Recruitment and Retention
Inability by the Montana University System to address, through collective bargaining, unique recruitment and retention difficulties forced pressure on the classification system (again, developed and administered by state agencies) in an attempt to respond to an increasing lack of competitiveness in the labor market. Attempts to reward staff for increased workload resulting from increasing student enrollments have also become commonplace. However, the classification system is not structured to respond to such issues.

The following chart illustrates the number of reclassification requests submitted during the past five years.

Montana University System
Reclassification Data
Fiscal Years 1996-2000

Incumbent Review Requests

Results of Incumbent Reviews

Per Campus



No Change

Fiscal Year 2000

UM Campuses





MSU Campuses





Fiscal Year 1999

UM Campuses





MSU Campuses





The University System is unique from state agencies in a number of ways. Two examples are:

1) Many staff positions exist only within the University System (e.g., academic counselors, financial aid specialists, research specialists, sign language interpreters, student recruiters, etc.). Recruitments often occur in a broader market area than is typical for most state positions.

2) The customer base (i.e., students) is also unique. Students, as customers, have the ability to select a different university if they are dissatisfied with the quality of service. However, in most state agencies, the customers have no choice where they will obtain a hunting license, to whom they will pay taxes, which department will maintain the highways on which they travel, etc. Therefore, the values may be significantly different in the University System.

These particular factors, coupled with the Montana economy, create recruitment and retention challenges and the need for the University System to be more competitive to attract and retain the most qualified individuals.

Staff positions are on average 17 percent behind the market as determined by the state's survey of 79 positions in the four contiguous state area [6].

Recruitment difficulties are illustrated by the following data provided by the two universities:

Montana University System
Recruitment Information
Fiscal Years 1996-2000

UM Campuses:

# Staff Recruitments

Average # of Applicants

Average Length of Recruitment

# of Failed Recruitments

FY 1996



7 Days


FY 1997



7 Days


FY 1998



7 Days


FY 1999



9 Days


FY 2000



12 Days


MSU Campuses:

FY 1996



10 Days


FY 1997



10 Days


FY 1998



12 Days


FY 1999



14 Days


FY 2000



14 Days


Staff turnover rates among all campuses of the Montana University System average 17 percent annually.

A survey of human resource officers conducted by the State of Montana Department of Administration document the increasing difficult in recruiting and retaining qualified individuals. The Montana University System was included in this survey [7].

Labor-Management Discord
Inadequate compensation, dissatisfaction with the statewide classification system, and the lack of reward systems for staff resulted in a demonstration by over 500 staff members at the Board of Regents meeting in January 1999. Collective bargaining with staff unions was ongoing at the time of the demonstration. The State Legislature was also in session.

Negotiations were protracted and adversarial, especially with the Montana Public Employees Association (MPEA), which represented the large majority of staff attending the demonstration. Members of the State Legislature attempted to expedite a settlement by unsuccessfully proposing legislation that would have delayed all funding to the Montana University System until negotiations were completed.

Two significant agreements ultimately resulted from the 1999 collective bargaining sessions:

1) For the first time since the mid-1970's, the Montana University System deviated from the path of simply adhering to the wage settlement negotiated by the state for non-university agencies. Even though funding allocated by the State Legislature was still based on the state's negotiated settlement, the Montana University System recognized the uniqueness of university staff members. The negotiated settlement for university staff was approximately 2.3 percent higher than the wage increase afforded state employees.

2) A memorandum of understanding was successfully negotiated by MPEA and the Montana University System requiring the formation of a "Classification System Task Force." The task force was in essence a labor-management committee, comprised of equal numbers of members appointed by labor representatives and those appointed by management representatives. The charge to that task force was to analyze the weaknesses of the current classification and pay system and recommend alternatives that would meet identified needs.

As collective bargaining, which takes place every other year, was occurring in May 1999, Montana State University-Bozeman was experiencing an inability to recruit custodians for vacant positions. As a result, administrators at the campus requested and received approval from the State of Montana Department of Administration (since the University System was still tied to the statewide pay and classification system) a pay exception for 87 custodians at only the Bozeman campus (represented by Teamsters, MPEA, and Laborers). That pay exception amounted to a wage increase of approximately $1.00 per hour per custodian.

Subsequently, 96 custodial staff members represented by MPEA at The University of Montana-Missoula and Montana Tech of The University of Montana filed a Wage and Classification Appeal with the State Board of Personnel Appeals. A key assertion made by MPEA was that custodians at all campuses of the Montana University System were covered by a single classification system and MPEA represented members within one bargaining unit at Bozeman, Butte, and Missoula, thereby precluding the segregation of one group by compensating them differently under the current classification and pay system. Seven months later the University System reached a settlement with MPEA awarding MPEA custodians at all campuses the a similar pay increase exception, costing approximately $175,000.

This was the first wage appeal filed by MPEA in over 10 years on behalf of their members-another indicator of deteriorating labor-management relations.

Classification Task Force
The classification task force was appointed and is comprised of 28 labor and management representatives. The task force met for the first time in December 1999. The charge to the task force was to research and recommend alternatives to the current classification and pay system that would meet the diverse interests of staff and management at all campuses of the University System. The scope of the issue was not conducive to the collective bargaining process; thus, the delegation to a task force.

The initial step was to conduct focus groups at most campuses in order to clearly identify problems and levels of dissatisfaction with the current systems, as well as identify interests and needs. Staff and supervisors participated in the focus groups, which were facilitated by graduate students from the Department of Communication Studies at The University of Montana-Missoula. Staff participants included individuals from all bargaining units whose members are included in the classification system. Responses were consistent among staff and supervisors. The primary concerns were:

  • Needing a formalized performance evaluation process to provide regular feedback to staff

  • Allowing staff the opportunity for input into their own evaluations

  • Providing a mechanism for enforcement of performance evaluation policies

  • Developing a classification system that is easy to use and understand

  • Developing a classification system that is flexible, recognizes changes in workload, and adequately recognizes all job responsibilities

  • Correcting the misuse of the classification system as the primary method of increasing staff wages

  • Allowing opportunities to reward individual excellence

A more complete summary is attached as Addendum B.

Creation of the Montana University System Achievement Project (MAP)
Using information gleaned from focus group participants and after researching numerous other universities, the classification task force created the Montana University System Achievement Project (MAP), modeled after a program developed for Tufts University. MAP has three elements:

1) a collaborative Performance Development Program,

2) a system of 7 broad bands to replace the current 25-grade classification system, and

3) pay options that focus on individual achievements and professional development

A summary of MAP is attached as Addendum C. (Modifications have been made to MAP subsequent to completion of the summary and will continue until collective bargaining is concluded.)

The Montana University System Achievement Project is considered more than a simplistic system of revised forms and pay increases. MAP is the foundation for a change in organizational culture that will benefit individual staff members and the universities. Focus on collaborative decision-making, staff involvement in goal setting and job performance assessments, increased accountability of both administrators and staff, and reward structures for high performers will ultimately change the organizational climate to one of proactive involvement by staff in their professional development and contributions to the university's mission.

Task force members endorsed the Performance Development component of MAP in fall 2000. Pilot projects were then implemented at some of the campuses. Pilot project participants totaled approximately 300, a relatively small percentage of classified staff eligible to participate in MAP. Participants in the pilot projects reported overall success and satisfaction with the Performance Development Program. Numerous program modifications were made based on feedback from pilot project participants.

The task force and the Board of Regents endorsed the other two MAP elements (i.e., broad bands and pay options) in April 2001. Acceptance and implementation of MAP is now subject to the collective bargaining process.

Current Collective Bargaining Process
In an effort to restore a more productive and positive collective bargaining process and rebuild labor-management relations, MPEA and the University System began labor negotiations in January 2001, using an interest-based bargaining approach. At the time of writing this grant proposal, collective bargaining with other bargaining units has not yet commenced.

The collective bargaining team has tentatively endorsed the concept of MAP, with some reservations. The team believes MAP meets the needs communicated by staff. However, because of the diversity of campuses in terms of resources and personnel, members of the bargaining team hold a firm belief that MAP will be successful only if implemented consistently across all campuses. In their opinion, the only acceptable approach to the team is the designation of a system-wide MAP coordinator; an infusion of funds for training, communications, and statewide travel to each campus; and ongoing oversight by labor and management representatives.

The MPEA bargaining team is adamant that a phased-in approach to implementation is unacceptable. All campuses and all staff must be on the same implementation schedule and transition to MAP simultaneously.

Due to the funding constraints imposed by the State Legislature, no additional funding is available through the campuses for MAP implementation requirements.


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