Since late last year, the University of Kentucky has vaccinated more than 130,000 people — some 250,000 doses of life-saving medication — in response to a global pandemic.
It was an unprecedented response to an unprecedented challenge. Yet, at its core, the injection of healing and hope throughout our Commonwealth was one more chapter in a more than 156-year history of answering one central and compelling question:
How do we advance Kentucky — its education and its economy, its health and well-being?
A massive makeshift vaccination clinic established outside the concourse of a football stadium was a visible response. Perhaps less visible, though just as meaningful, have been our university’s efforts over the last several years to lead our region and our state in another way – in how we invest in our people, our most precious and important asset.
We know that, as a university and as a community, we can’t advance Kentucky, if we don’t sustain and support our people.
Toward that end, UK’s Staff Senate — members who are elected by their peers to represent them — have worked in partnership with the staff representative on the UK Board of Trustees and university leaders in recent years to strategically invest in ways directly responsive to the needs of our campus community.
Because of that strong partnership, in the university budget that the Board of Trustees will consider this month will increase those investments in ways that lead our region and that directly respond to the needs of our campus community. The budget being considered would:
▪ For the fourth time in six years, increase the minimum hourly rate for regular employees – to $15 on Jan. 1, 2022. This is the right thing to do. It strengthens our community and, in so doing, strengthens our capacity for serving students and the state.
▪ Establish a new paid leave program for staff employees, who are welcoming a new child or caring for an ill parent. These programs are the direct result of ongoing work-life surveys among employees over the last several years that have probed staff concerns and potential policies to address them. UK’s staff representative to the UK Board of Trustees and the staff senate joined forces to advocate for and educate university administrators about the need for this benefit.
▪ Implement a 2 percent pay increase, beginning in January, and provide one-time, $1,000 payments to eligible faculty and staff this July. If approved by our board, this would mark the eighth time in the last 10 years – during both good and bad economies – the university has raised pay – critical in UK’s ability to retain and recruit employees.
▪ Resume a 10 percent employer retirement contribution match and extend for several months the deadline for employees who accrued vacation during the pandemic to use those days.
These measures also benefit Lexington and the state. We are, by far, this community and region’s largest employer and one of the largest in Kentucky.
Recruiting and retaining outstanding employees contributes immeasurably to our economy and community’s civic life. Increasing wages adds millions of dollars to the city’s coffers in taxes and revenues, helping ensure basic services and quality of life.
But investing in our people in sustained and strategic ways also demonstrates the power of partnership.
All of these efforts — most of which are the result of consistent efforts over a number of years — happened because of consultation, feedback and agreed upon priorities between our elected staff representatives and our administration.
It underscores what we can do when we share a commitment to make shared progress, focused on the question that has always driven us: what can we do to advance Kentucky?
As always, the answer lies with our people.
Jon Gent is chair of UK’s Staff Senate. David Melanson is the staff trustee on the UK Board of Trustees.