But more will see higher pay as a result of new wage scale

By Maureen Vander Sanden

Contributor

Recent approval by the Walworth County Board of Supervisors to create a new pay scale that officials say better aligns public employees’ wages with those in the private sector, sparked outcry Nov. 13 from a handful who are facing reductions.

With Gov. Scott Walker’s highly-debated Act 10 essentially stripping away collective bargaining for most public employees, local leaders have joined dozens of others from across the state in developing new standards for compensating its workforce.

Headed by Suzi Hagstrom, the county’s labor-employee relations director, the county conducted a market study which revealed that compared to private sector companies included in the data, one-third of the 800-plus employees on Walworth County’s payroll are overpaid, one-third are under paid, and one-third are at about the same rate.

“We were only considering wages, not benefits,” Hagstrom explained in an email.  “We use the philosophy of the mid-point of our ranges being 75 percent of the market value for a position.”

Based on the study’s findings, new ranges were introduced for hourly employees in the form of a resolution that was endorsed by the county’s human resources committee and later adopted by the County Board on Oct. 9.

While 188 employees are in line for an increase, the new pay scale set up others for cuts – some by as much as $6 an hour.

Of the county’s 77 employees determined to be overpaid, 20 were found to be paid more than 10 percent above the highest rate in the range, and will begin seeing decreased wages.

Stephanie Adrihan, an early childhood special education teacher, is among those expected to take a hit.

She questioned the credibility of the study that determined she was overpaid when, she argued, her $54,830 annual salary falls within the teachers’ average wages according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

“My salary is within the average wage for teachers in Wisconsin and I have made it to the top of my pay scale,” she said. “I am not moving up, and apparently now I am supposed to be moving down.”

Adrihan said more than half of her time as an early childhood educator is actually spent doing case management – making her skills even more valuable to the county.

“It takes a special person to sit on the floor and tell a parent their child’s speech delay is possibly autism. I don’t wish that on anyone. And that’s what I do, day in and day out, but I love it,” she said before asking the board to reconsider the wage cuts.

Frank Dedeo, a building maintenance engineer who is nearing 18 years with the county, also pleaded with supervisors at the meeting to rethink the wage changes.

“You have put an investment in these engineers to keep your buildings going…we work hard for our money,” he said, adding, “Don’t lose your investment in these maintenance men…Think about what you’re doing here.”

Another building maintenance engineer, Eric Flom, said his wage reduction to $13.41 an hour would force him to seek a second job, which could compromise his flexibility with the county in cases of emergencies.

“I always worked as assigned … coming in early mornings and in evenings when things broke,” he said.

With the pay scale already approved, at the heart of the board’s discussion was not whether to approve the wage changes, but how best to implement them.

Supervisor Dan Kilkenny, who supported a failed amendment that would have implemented the most drastic cuts starting in 2014, pointed out that none of the county’s employees who will benefit with an increase to their pay protested the changes.

“We need to be fair to people so we’re giving raises without being forced by the arbitrator and we’re making adjustments on the other side not because they lost, but because it makes sense and we are trying to exercise leadership here,” he said. “We are going to have to make a lot of tough decisions if Act 10 is upheld, and this is one of the first ones.”

With one year before wages are scheduled to get scaled back, Kilkenny said those facing cuts will have time to go through appeals, and department heads can tackle other issues along the way.

Supervisor Jerry Grant, who successfully pushed his amendment to instead reduce overpaid employees’ wages by $1 an hour annually, said: “We do need to treat our employees with some dignity and some respect.”

“It’s not easy for me to live with, but it’s the most reasonable (compromise) I could come up with,” he said. “You take $1 an hour away from someone, you’re going to hurt them, but really, we don’t have much choice.”

According to Hagstrom, employees who are over-market will see no increase in 2013 and those at or below market will see changes the first full pay period in 2013.

Those employees who are more than 10 percent above the highest rate on the range will see their pay reduced by $1 an hour each Jan. 1 until they fall within the range, beginning in 2014.

 

 
 

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