Robert Warren and James Norman | Staff Writers
A state-sanctioned hiring freeze implemented by Governor Greg Abbott has affected 55 vacant positions at UNT since the law went into effect on February 1.
The freeze will go through the end of August and has affected UNT facilities the most, with 15 jobs currently unfilled in that department. Beverly Cotton, associate vice president for budget and analytics said the university follows the law.
“We comply with what our state needs us to do,” Cotton said. “It has been tough but we are making it happen.”
The freeze which was introduced to the Texas House of Representative on January 10 quickly passed the legislature preventing state institutions from posting new jobs or filling vacant ones. David Reynolds, associate vice president for facilities, said the freeze has forced his department to make some changes to their work.
“The freeze has forced us to change up some schedules,” Reynolds said. “And slow down some projects.”
How UNT is dealing
UNT is balancing the vacant jobs it needed to fill with non-state funds, like student tuition money and waivers mainly aimed at UNT’s summer programs. Cotton said these actions are “critical” in filling some of the more necessary positions.
Cotton added she does not know what 2018 will mean for these positions. The hiring freeze will end September 1, when state institutions will again be allowed to begin hiring for unfilled positions. But she said nothing is official if Abbott signs off on legislation that will extend the freeze around mid-June.
Right now UNT has just under $1 million as of February 1 in legislative spending authority. But the university is not allowed to touch those funds until the end of the freeze.
Unfilled job descriptions
The unfilled positions in facilities are for five maintenance workers, four technicians, two supervisors, two construction specialists, one utilities manager and one assistant director in facilities.
Reynolds said the hardest part of the freeze is there are fewer people, which means slowing down projects and monitoring them more. He added the freeze has caused some clients to become upset and frustrated by slowed work.
Facilities maintenance workers currently have two unfilled positions affected by the freeze. They are responsible for cleaning and sanitation work in the assigned buildings or special projects. Two more ground maintenance worker positions also remain unfilled. They are responsible for outdoor work such as mowing grass, planting and watering plants, picking up and emptying rubbish on the ground.
Facility technicians are workers with entry-level to skilled-level craftwork. They are responsible for carpentries, installations, painting, welding millwork, mechanical and more. They have four positions affected by the freeze.
Facilities supervisors can be responsible for frontline supervision maintenance functions, training, workers schedules, determining supply and material needs, or planning, assigning and scheduling work. Two supervisor positions are unfilled.
Two construction specialists positions are also affected. Both – landscape planner and project manager positions – are affected by the freeze.
One facilities and utilities manager responsible for establishing and implementing operational standards, allocating resources and strategy development also remains unfilled. And one assistant director position, responsible for daily operations, also remains unfilled.
Reynolds said that despite the hiring freeze they are still functioning well and have an optimistic look on it.
Other departments affected
Aside from facilities, the most affected departments at UNT were the financial aid department and the department of university relations, communication and marketing (URCM). Both have four unfilled positions.
URCM has a digital image specialist, IT specialist, social media manager and senior social media strategist affected by the freeze.
The digital image specialist put on hold deals with planning and production of audio, photo, video, lining up shots and shooting video. The IT specialist looks at technical support with the installation of hardware or software. The social media manager is responsible for assessing new initiatives in social media to advertise the university. The senior social media manager is responsible for disseminating creative content.
Financial aid has counselor, counselor assistant, administrative specialist and call center representative positions affected by the freeze.
The financial aid counselor is responsible for performing administrative duties for the student in a “service-centered way.” The counselor assistant and specialist do routine support in varied ways. The call center service representatives work is administrative support.
Effects on other state institutions
Stepping back from looking at the hiring freeze at a university level to a state level there is a state agency affected responsible for the inspection of 242 county jails around Texas. This agency is the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
The hiring freeze affects other state institutions as well. There are currently two positions unfilled at the Texas Commission on Jail Standards responsible for inspecting the 242 county jails in Texas. Right now the commission has 15 employees. The two positions are for a complaint inspector and a program specialist responsible for handling escapes, deaths in custody and compliance paperwork.
The freeze has forced executive director of the TCJS Eric Wood to shift people around to cover for the two unfilled position.
“Whenever the hiring freeze was put into place we were no longer able to continue interviewing for those positions and basically we were forced to rotate inspectors in from the field to cover those two positions,” Wood said. “And we’ll continue to do so until the end of the fiscal year, which is August 31.”
Like UNT, waivers are offered to the commission to be exempt from the freeze. But it must be approved by the governor’s office of budget and policy and cases are reviewed one-by-one according to one of Governor Abbott’s memos on the issue.
”We did submit a waiver request,” Wood said. “But we were not one of the agencies given a waiver to fill the positions. We’re a small agency, to begin with, so most people perform one or more functions as it is. That was why it was necessary to basically rotate inspectors in from the field to cover those duties because office staff were already doing jobs that would completely overload them.”
Featured Image: Hurley Administration Building. Jake King