Coffee heat rising

Tempus fidgets

Time does fly, and with it our little concerns and mores. When I entered a link to one of this site’s “pages” in yesterday’s post and then had some trouble persuading the software not to link to the old URL, I happened to read over the contents of “The Poison Poppy.” Time adds a great deal of perspective: getting your bowels in an uproar over a $220-a-month pay cut seems pretty silly, compared to a 100 percent cut in pay!

These days I feel a lot calmer about the money situation (among other things). As a matter of fact, where next year’s financial pickle is concerned, I no longer care. If I end up living under the Seventh Avenue overpass, tant pis. I’ll be in good company.

For about three years there, I was in a constant state of uproar; during one of those years, I was in a chronic rage.

The whole flap over the destruction of my swimming pool, which took place shortly after I moved in to my present home, created a great deal of angst and downright fear, particularly after a judge would not let me, SDXB, or my lawyer leave his courtroom until after Mr. B*** was seen driving away from the parking lot. Having two barracuda lawyers urge me to sell my house and flee—and describe in exquisite detail what they imagined Mr. B*** to be capable of—was pretty bloody terrifying.

None of that hysteria died down until M’hijito proved, by installing a phalanx of infrared cameras, that the ensuing pool pump “vandalism” incidents were happening because the equipment was defective, not because Son-in-Law was hopping the fence once a month to fool with it. But overlapping that was the Great Desert University’s ballyhooed partnership with PeopleSoft, which led to five months of incorrect paychecks, missed retirement contributions, an attempt to void 200 hours of accrued vacation time and declare me ineligible for vacation, insane abuses of my staff members, wrong information (surely  not outright lies?) from HR, and a $220 de facto monthly pay cut. And this was superimposed over the slowly but steadily growing issues surrounding My Bartleby, the single most unholy personnel issue I have ever had to deal with—one that dragged out over four excruciating years.

Looking back on it, I realize how close to a breakdown I must have been. It’s no wonder I ended up in the hospital with stress. What is a wonder is that I survived at all.

Well, now that only two months remain in my tenure with the Great Desert University, I no longer feel an irrational hatred for the institution (it’s like hating rainfall or the moon in the sky). True, a trip to Tempe does evince a flinch reflex, and I do look forward to never having to enter that burg again.

In spite of the year of unemployment and enforced penury coming up, I feel comfortable about the future. Money happens, after all. Some things are better than a regular salary. Some things are worse than penury.

Can your employer top this?

Comes the following from my sidekick, in the e-mail:

After the furlough and the new deductions they’re taking…I’m netting about $200/week. I’m going to do the bare minimum. It’s just not worth it. I’m going to have to find another job soon. I can’t live on this.

Think of that. This talented young woman, who in working 50% FTE for our office has handled not one, not two, but three scholarly journals (one of whose content is partially in Spanish), has a master’s degree from the Great Desert University and a set of highly sophisticated editorial skills. Tells you a lot about how GDU values its master’s programs, doesn’t it? And about how it values its employees.

Some time back, she remarked that she earns more in a five-hour shift waiting tables at Applebee’s than she does in a week at GDU. Now, I expect, she earns more in about two hours.

A week or so ago, she got a notice from PeopleSoft, the faceless contractor to which GDU has outsourced its payroll functions, to the effect that they’d just discovered that for the past year they’ve failed to withhold her required contributions to the state retirement system, which in this right-to-work-for-nothing state amount to 9 percent of the employee’s salary. They tried to blame this on her, claiming she had not gone to a “new employee” meeting when she was switched from graduate research assistant to classified staff (thereby incurring a large cut in pay) and so had not “elected” the mandatory retirement.

Say what?

In the first place, she was not a new employee. Having worked in our office doing the same work for the prior two years, she had no reason to think she was regarded as a “new” employee.

In the second place, classified state employees here have no choice of retirement plans. They are eligible only for the Arizona State Retirement System, a defined benefit plan, and they are required to belong to it, willy-nilly. There was nothing to “elect”! GDU and PeopleSoft should have automatically withheld her retirement contributions, as a matter of course.

GDU has pulled some nasty stunts on employees over the years I’ve observed it in action. I can’t say this one takes the cake. But it comes close.

It comes close because she is paid so frigging little in the first place that it’s insulting. Then to  confiscate practically her entire salary…it’s just inexcusable.

Is there any question why morale is in the sub-basement? Is there any question why the place is collapsing inward on itself? And is there any question why this city hosts therapists whose entire practices consist mostly of GDU employees?

No wonder I grind my teeth till they break.

If I could see my way clear to survive between now and Medicare eligibility, I would quit Monday morning. Let them find someone else to lead the sheep to the slaughter.

In fact, I probably could quit in September. Apparently you can claim COBRA if you can say the reason for your leaving is that the job changed enough to make it unacceptable. And as far as I’m concerned, this kind of treatment of my staff is unacceptable. At that time, the nine-month COBRA discount would carry me through to my 65th birthday. The combination of four sections in the community colleges plus the amount GDU would have to pay for my unused vacation time would amount to only about $1,495 less than my salary in the last quarter of 2009.

It’s something to think about.

Bureaucracy redux

So I got up at 5:00 this morning to do a job I’ve been putting off: the community college district sent, to everyone who has applied for a job there, a notice that if you want to stay in the system you have to go back to the HR site and re-enter all the data you’d already uploaded. They’ve made some sort of change, and in doing so erased everyone’s data and required everyone to jump through their endless set of hoops again. This considerate move apparently comes to us courtesy of PeopleSoft, the bureaucracy’s bureaucracy. 

It took an hour and forty minutes to complete the needless, pointless chore. I quit early because the system would not allow me to upload the hideous, endless “CT” document: a form in which you have to enter every…single…college…course you have ever taken. Lower-division, upper-division, and graduate. D’you know how many courses you end up taking in pursuit of a Ph.D.????? This thing consumed over two hours the first time I did it, and I will be damned if I’m going to waste another two hours doing it all over again. 

In addition to typing each course number, course title, number of credits, semester, and year of every course you’ve ever taken in your life, you also have to turn in official transcripts, rendering the stupefyingly time-wasting list redundant. 

Maybe they’ve decided to give up on that stunt. Probably not, though: they still have the blank form posted for you to download. 

What excuse is there for PeopleSoft? Its metafunction evidently is demonstrate that employers do not give one thin damn about their workers: any company or institution that would offload HR and payroll tasks to an outfit that treats people this way cannot wish any good to its employees.

LOL! Someone once said that “bureaucracy exists to serve itself.” What on earth it’s serving remains to be seen!

Copyright © 2009 Funny about Money 

Taxes! PeopleSoft! Garrrrhhhhh!

Is there a way to express my hatred for my honored government’s tax system?

Just ran a Quicken report for my tax lawyer. Haven’t printed it out…I don’t even want to know how many pages it will generate. There’s probably not enough paper in the house to print the damn thing. I’ll have to hire an elephant and a mahout to deliver it across town.

Because of PeopleSoft’s proven unreliability—and because I’m pretty sure they got last year’s W-2 wrong—for the first time I’ve broken out all the details of my paycheck as a split entry under each salary deposit. I wanted a record that I could compare with the figures that appear on this year’s W-2. The result is a mosaic of new entries, some under income and some under expenses, an awe-inspiring mess. Many of these entries are directly deductible from my salary. Because my gross (instead of net, as in the past) salary appears under “income” and because Quicken categorizes refunds, reimbursements, the IRA withdrawals that immediately were reinvested (and so are a wash, tax-wise), and all sorts of other little bits of b.s. as “income,” this report makes it look like I earned almost $100,000 this year. Which, oohhhh believe me, I most decidedly did NOT.

To arrive at the real, piddling income, you have to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop after hoop. Nightmarish.

Why do we have to do this? Is there really some reason that every American, no matter how diddly his or her income, has to go through all the nonsense inflicted on our tax code to accommodate the very wealthy?

Maybe the Republicans had it right: just excuse rich people from paying taxes. If the wealthy few who could afford to hire lobbyists to instill these absurd complications in our tax law didn’t have to pay taxes, then the tax laws could be simplified and the rest of us would have a great deal easier time of it.

Let’s just give the obscenely wealthy a state—how about North Dakota? They can live there with no government and no taxes, they being, after all, wealthy enough to build their own private roads, airports, schools, and the like. Then the rest of us can go on about our business. Once you have a net worth of, say, $50 million, off you go to your mansion in North Dakota. And good-bye to all that.

Darn! Not canned, after all

LOL! Is this the promised threatened layoff?

To: GDU Faculty and Staff
From: Powers That Be

The PeopleSoft system currently shows most employees as system terminated. This is a system problem, and it terminated them in error. This is obviously a priority today, and all IT folks are working on it. They will hopefully have this fixed this afternoon, and HR will give us an update when they get it. Please let Oliver Boxankle in HR know if you have any other questions about this.

Hee heeeee! When they said “we’re laying off everyone in a specific job classification,” they weren’t kidding. That would be EVERYONE. Wouldn’t want to miss any outliers.

Alas, as of this morning the system is fixed. So, I suppose they think we should be working now.

The wonders of outsourcing.

Why keep your pay statements, and how

Recently My Dollar Plan told the story of a family member whose employer, in her early years on the job, neglected to withhold her retirement contributions. Fifteen years on, the accounting department noticed. In the discussion that ensued, she offered to contribute the unpaid amount but was told all would be fine, not to worry. Now, after thirty years in the salt mine, she retires, thinking indeed all is fine. But noooo…now they tell her that her retirement fund is not funded adequately to support her in her dotage.

This is big. Not just for the poor soul who’s looking at a lengthy struggle over this and the possibility of an impoverished retirement, but for all of us. The trend to outsource payroll to companies for whom employees are just so many numbers—or, if living entities at all, sheep to be sheared—distances workers from employers who have to look them in the eye. So does the increasing use of electronic systems that function more or less unobserved by human beings. The potential for error is much higher, and the potential for errors never to be noticed grows by the day.

A year or so ago, the Great Desert University turned over its payroll (and just about everything else having to do with sheepherding personnel management) to PeopleSoft. A huge fiasco ensued. Supposedly by the turn of the year everything was straightened out, and on the surface things have appeared to be running smoothly ever since.

Then we had the last round of layoffs. A number of the most recent cannees had worked in maintenance and support jobs for decades.

One benefit of working for Our Great State is that your sick leave hours accrue separately from vacation hours. Over the years, if you’re lucky enough to stay healthy or you come to work when you’re ill, a lot of sick leave hours pile up. After you reach 500 hours, the state will pay you 30 percent of your hourly pay rate as severance pay when you leave employment. Stash 1,000 hours, and that rate jumps to 50 percent of hourly pay. As you can imagine, this adds up nicely. At the moment, for example, if GDU lays me off today, OGS will owe me $16,500.

When the most recent RIFed workers applied to HR for payment reflecting their accrued unused sick leave hours, they were told they had none. PeopleSoft had no record of their sick leave balances. None.

Well. Of course, in the absence of their entire archive of back pay stubs, there’s no way for any of the laid-off workers to prove how much sick leave they earned, how much they had used, and how much remained for the state to pay.

This is why it’s crucial to keep copies of every pay stub or statement you get. If your pay statements are posted online instead of being delivered to you in hard copy, print them out and keep them in a fire-proof file cabinet. You should also be able to copy them to disk as PDFs, a good back-up, especially if you have electronic storage space somewhere other than at your house.

Keep these permanently. Never throw them away.

Not only that, but you should check every paycheck carefully for accuracy and completeness. During the Great PeopleSoft Fiasco, I received eight paychecks whose gross or net income figures were wrong. Twice, PeopleSoft failed to withhold my contribution to my retirement fund, and three times it failed to make GDU’s contribution. When accounting for my vacation hours disappeared, I was informed that—after 15 years of working for this fine institution—I was ineligible for vacation time. When, after weeks of squawking on my part, they decided to fix this, they got the figures wrong time after time after time. They got my sick leave figures wrong, they got my federal withholding wrong. And finally, come January, they got my W-2 wrong, too.

How do I know? Because when I realized what a mess they were making of things, I started keeping track of each item on my paycheck in an Excel spreadsheet:121008payrollerrorsThese figures, of which you see only a small part, came in mighty handy every time I had to send yet another written complaint to HR and to the Dean’s office over the mess PeopleSoft was making of my pay.

I knew the W-2 was wrong and that the error was in my favor, but not being an accountant, I couldn’t prove it and had no idea how to identify the errors. On the advice of my lawyer, I decided to let it go; it’s the employer’s responsibility to get the tax withholding right, and I was assured that I would have no liability if an IRS audit (which GDU and PeopleSoft richly deserved) showed irregularities in the W-2.

But…the discovery that the university was blithely distributing W-2’s that PeopleSoft knew to be in error (we actually were told this, and told we should calculate the correct figures ourselves!) led me to realize I’d better do more in Quicken than just enter my net pay. Starting on January 1, I began to enter a split entry for each paycheck, showing the gross payment less each deduction:121008splitentry

This, of course, is a gigantic pain in the buns that adds extra work time to my bookkeeping. However, I suspect it will be worth it.

For one thing, I discovered another error in a paycheck, which PeopleSoft never could account for. And for another, my annual Quicken category report will print out totals for each of the items shown in the split entry, making it easy for my tax lawyer to compare the actual income, deduction, and withholding figures with whatever appears on next January’s W-2.

Those are short-term issues. But the long-term issues could add up to something much more significant.

If Dollar Plan’s relative and GDU’s RIFed workers had kept records like these, they’d have a potent weapon in their fight with their employers. That would make it well worth the extra time and effort it takes to review your paycheck carefully and keep a running record of everything that has to do with it.