January 2011

Monday, Jan. 31, 2011 -- 1098T tax forms


When will the 1098T tax forms be posted to UAOnline?


Thank you for your question. The 1098T tax forms are now posted on UAOnline.

Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 -- Flexible spending account


Why do staff not have the option for a payment card for their FSA accounts? According to FBMC, the card allows users to access their FSA funds immediately. When you use the card, expenses are automatically sent to FBMC, eliminating the worry of forgetting to submit claims and the risk of forfeiting dollars at the end of the plan year. For many of us on a tight budget, having immediate access to our FSA funds would be a huge help and would likely increase the number of FSA users. People are hesitant to sign up for an FSA when they have to wait for reimbursements. If they can access their funds immediately, they would be more likely to see the doctor, dentist, or optometrist instead of waiting until they can "afford” to pay for the visit AND wait for reimbursement.


From Mike Humphrey, Director of Benefits

In order for the Medical Expense Flexible Spending Account Debit Card to provide auto-adjudication, the card must be able to match the known co-pays and deductibles with UA’s health plan. While FBMC could match UA’s deductibles and co-pays for pharmacy; they can’t program their system to pay 20 percent (the coinsurance for a claim) of an unknown number.
If FBMC issued debit cards and the card holder were to use it for a dental, vision, or doctor visit. The cardholder would receive notification from FBMC to fill out a paper claim and submit all the receipts (notification from FBMC would come as late a two months after the office visit).
If the cardholder failed to submit the requested documentation(s), the employee would be subject to withholding of payment from future paper claim submissions to offset any outstanding transactions. If the receipts were still not submitted (this could be as late as 4 months after the office visit), their card would be suspended. If documentation is never received at FBMC, federal regulations require UA to take the money back through payroll and report any outstanding card transactions on the employees W2 at the end of the year.
Because UA’s health plan does not have fixed fees in it, auto-adjudication cannot occur and that makes the debit card of little value.

Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 -- Paid time off model


Has switching to a paid-time off model, as opposed to an annual-leave/sick-time model been investigated or brought before the Board of Regents?  I understand that such a model may has its drawbacks (for example, employees may underestimate the amount of sick-leave they'll need, budgeting would have to be adjusted, etc,), but I'm wondering if it has ever been investigated as an alternative.


From Beth Behner, Chief UA Human Resources
The university is always reviewing possible changes that would benefit employees and the institution. In comparing our current system of having employees accrue both annual leave and sick leave, the university recently reviewed the accrual systems used throughout the state of Alaska for sick and annual leave. The university found that there were 9 public sector groups in Alaska that currently use and/or have converted to paid time off. Under PTO systems, employees accrue one time of leave and do not have separate annual leave and sick leave accounts. Employees use their accrued PTO for medical appointments, absences due to illness and personal time off. Of the groups whose employees recently converted to PTO, 4 involved unions representing employees working for the State of Alaska. The Fairbanks North Star Borough is a local example of an employer that has a PTO accrual system.  

The Municipality of Anchorage currently has a system in place for staff in which annual leave is accrued, but then converted to sick leave on 12/31 of each year. UA continues to monitor changing trends in employee benefits, but has not recently proposed any changes to BOR Policy or University Regulation.   A review of the possibility of converting to PTO at UA occurred about 10 years ago, but the conversion was found to be too costly and unattractive to employees. The following list notes issues that an employer and its employees must consider when reviewing conversions from traditional sick leave and annual leave to PTO.

1. Under a PTO system, terminating employees are able to cash out their PTO leave balance (a combination of annual and sick). Currently, sick leave has no cash value upon termination. For this reason, PTO could motivate employees to use leave more judiciously—they are spending their own money when they take leave.

2. The maximum annual PTO carryover leave balance would need to be increased as the leave would have to cover employees’ absences for all reasons. Currently at UA, annual leave carryover is limited to 240 hours.

3. An employee doesn’t have to give a reason for the use of PTO; they would simply make a request to their supervisor. This might be an attractive feature to employees but procedures and guidance to supervisors would be needed to address denials of PTO requests.

4. In going to a PTO system the total hours of leave accrual (now annual leave + sick leave) would be less. Some people would appreciate the increased value of fewer days of leave; others who use both sick leave and annual leave extensively would consider it a disadvantage.  

5. It would be a large administrative cost to transfer current staff under the old annual/sick policy to a PTO and difficult decisions would need to be made regarding the conversion value of present accruals and how much leave could remain on the books.

6. Donation of sick leave to the current leave share bank could be complicated. Employees would be less likely to donate leave that has a cash value. This could create a hardship to primary care givers and people with illnesses – who typically have minimal sick leave balances.

Employees can access both the BOR Policy and University Regulation on sick leave and annual leave at

www.alaska.edu/bor under Chapter 04.06, Benefits and Leave.

Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 -- ASEA uniion organizing


I have heard that the ASEA union has indicated on the radio that they are getting ready to start approaching the university's "unrepresented" staff again.  I had presumed they would wait until spring because of their taste for one-on-one and door-to-door tactics.  I'm frankly bitter and exhausted from the last go round, is there any truth to this return and can they continue to attack and surrender every few months forever?


From Beth Behner, Chief UA Human Resources Officer

Thank you for your question. The following letter was sent to all non-represented staff on Jan. 19, 2011, I've included an excerpt from it below, but encourage you to download the letter in its entirety if you haven't already seen it.


You may have heard that ASEA/AFCSME Local 52 Business Manager Jim Duncan recently stated in an interview that ASEA/AFCSME hopes to hold an election to unionize UA staff sometime this year. It is important to know that ASEA/AFCSME’s action to withdraw its last representation petition was not merely a request to postpone the scheduled election. The petition, once withdrawn, cannot be reactivated. This means interest cards signed for the last organizing campaign have expired. ASEA/AFCSME will have to start from scratch, meaning it will have to gather signatures of at least 30 percent of employees in a proposed unit indicating interest before the Alaska Labor Relations Agency, which oversees union elections, would honor a representation petition and proceed to an election. If you signed a representation card during the last campaign, ASEA/AFSCME can be expected to be persistent in asking you to sign one again. However, you have no obligation to do so. The decision is up to you.

If you have questions or concerns about any of the information included above please send me an email or contact my office at (907) 450-8230.

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011 -- WRRB lighting


The WRRB labs always seem deserted but it's always as bright as day in there. I wonder how much money the university would save by putting motion detector circuits in the lab.


Thank you for your question. It will be forwarded to UAF's electrical engineer for review. Often it's a matter of the last one out of the area leaving the lights on. Installing occupancy sensors can be difficult because of the size of the labs and the distance of the sensors. In the meantime, Facilities Services will send out a building wide e-mail reminding staff and faculty to please shut lights off after leaving an empty lab.

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011 -- New custodial services


I understand that there is a new contractor for custodial services and I have noticed that the level of cleanliness has dropped drastically.  Since coming back from the holiday break, the floors in WRRB and the GI building just have not been cleaned. Scuff marks, coffee spills, gravel and the results of normal traffic, have not been cleaned since coming back to work. What is the story on this?


The new custodial contractor GCA Services began operations at UAF Dec. 20. Custodians have begun cleaning most of campus and will complete the transition to take over all campus cleaning by Feb. 1.  We’ve seen positive results in many of the areas, but this is a transition. We appreciate your patience during this time and would appreciate any feedback, both positive and negative. If you see areas being missed or have other comments please e-mail dispatch@fs.uaf.edu or call 474-7000.


Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011 -- Recycling guidelines


Can people bring in their recyclables from home or are the bins just for materials used/consumed on campus?


Alumni, staff, faculty and students may bring recyclables from home. Visit our website for more information about recycling.  


Monday, Jan. 3, 2011 -- UAF homepage search


I was wondering why the news link on the UAF homepage points to http://www.uafnews.com/?   The search box only seems to search www.uaf.edu, so important news doesn't appear in the results of the search.  Is there a reason the news has to be on a different site?


The UAF news is on a different website, in part, as a cost-saving measure, as the news website's functional requirements would have involved many hours of customization to be built on the UAF Roxen web server making a Roxen solution cost-prohibitive. The chosen platform for the news website met those functional requirements and was free, but was not supported by UAF web server or OIT, therefore it had to be created off-site.

The Google Search Appliance in the UAF web banner currently only searches www.uaf.edu and www.alaska.edu websites. OIT pays for this search appliance and currently omits indexing off-site UAF-affiliated websites as there is a per-page fee for indexing. This search engine is indexed nightly for the most up-to-date search results.

Search results that include off-site UAF-affiliated websites can be accessed by clicking on "Advanced search" in the UAF web banner and using the Google Custom Search engine on the resulting page. This search engine is free and searches all known UAF-affiliated websites, but relies on Google for indexing, which may not take place for weeks or months, resulting in sometimes out-of-date results.


As of Jan. 27, 2011 OIT has included the currently known off-site UAF-affilated websites in the Google Search Appliance; thereby, searches made from the UAF homepage and on any page with the UAF banner will be more inclusive.


Monday, Jan. 3, 2011 -- Recycling on campus


When recycling on campus, do the labels need to be removed from glass and is the plastic recycling numbers 1 through 7?


You do not have to take the label off the glass, but glass should be rinsed clean. Plastics 1-7 are accepted, but should also be clean.  


Monday, Jan. 3, 2011 -- Film company looking for Tamarack stands


I heard that someone making a movie asked for UAF's help (presumably someone in SNRAS who is knowledgeable about trees?) in finding a good stand of Tamarack trees to do some filming. Will the movie be filmed on campus, or where they just looking for trees in the Interior?


You heard correctly. Evergreen Films e-mailed professor John Yarie, SNRAS Forest Sciences department chair, for help locating a stand of tamarack trees to use in a film the company might make. Dr. Yarie contacted the Forest Service and referred the production company to areas in Nenana and Southcentral Alaska.

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