Brookings will reconsider some of its proposed wage changes for non-union staff after a citizen protested raises for longevity, and rule-changes to allow employees to cash out vacation time and bank more overtime hours.
It did vote, 3-2 with Councilor Bill Hamilton and Mayor Jake Pieper voting nay, to approve four of seven stipulations in the proposal. Those included a 1.75 percent pay raise for non-union employees, two change in sick day use regarding family members, and changing to quarterly how often contributions can be made to employees’ Health Savings Accounts (HSA).
Eighteen employees would be affected by the proposal as written, and it would add $145,000 to the cost of running the city.
Typically, city officials like to address the non-union pay schedules after union negotiations are complete. An agreement has been reached for the 2017-2019 biennium for general employees, but police negotiations are still underway. In light of that delay, the city agreed to forge ahead with the non-union package.
The changes would affect the court clerk, city recorder, fire captain and chief, building official, human resources, parks manager, public works and treatment plant supervisors, police sergeant and lieutenant, payroll, human resources, finance director and public safety directors, the IT manager and the administrative aide.
Eleven of those people, along with management, are not eligible for overtime pay, and the two part-time personnel are not eligible for vacation time.
The bottom line
The proposal calls for a 2.8 percent increase in employee compensation — 1.75 of which would go to the employee and the rest to pay for retirement benefits.
The contract would:
•Increase the number of times an employee can cash out accrued vacation time from two to three times per year, and the number of hours they can cash out, from 80 to 120;
•Increase the amount of overtime eligible employees can “bank” from 120 to 160 hours;
•Allow contributions to the employee’s HSA to be made quarterly;
•Add longevity pay of 2.5 percent for employees with 10 or more years of service, and 5 percent for those with 15 or more years of service, and;
•Allow employees to take sick time for family members even if they don’t live in the household.
The proposal didn’t sit well with Teresa Lawson of Brookings, who questioned why public employees should get such extravagant allowances that are virtually unheard of in the private sector.
“My concerns with an overtime accumulation bank increase of 33 percent are that (they) will only add to vacation time not being used,” she said. “It is highly likely the hours will be used for vacation and actual vacation time will then be cashed out, increasing the cost to the city.”
City Manager Gary Milliman noted the only two employees eligible to take overtime hours are the two police sergeants, and they do so for court appearances and special events.
Vacation means ‘leave’
Lawson also had an issue with the vacation portion of the proposal.
“Vacation is designed to be used, not as a cash bonus,” she told the council. “Cashing out three weeks of vacation time a year will add significant costs to the city every year going forward.”
Lawson also said a 2017 national human resources survey indicated only 14 percent of companies have a policy that allows employees to cash out their vacation time.
Even councilors agreed they didn’t like three of the seven proposals.
Councilor Dennis Triglia said if employees are making overtime and not using vacation time, they have not learned how to successfully delegate duties.
“I oppose the concept of employees being able to cash out vacation leave in lieu of using it,” he said. “The purpose of vacation leave is to take a vacation — a break away from one’s normal work routine to recharge. There is no excuse for not using one’s vacation time.”
He also suggested capping the amount of vacation time an employee can earn, at 120 hours, and said he opposes salary increases based on longevity, and prefers bonuses.
Milliman noted that of the 18 employees affected, five have 10 or more years of tenure with the city and three have 15 years service.
“I am well aware most of our city employees work extremely hard and are an asset to our city,” Triglia said. “However, many unemployed or underemployed residents of our city may feel city staff should be thankful for the jobs they have and not be further compensated just because they have worked for the city for 10 years or more.”
Councilor Brent Hodges agreed, saying that as a business owner, he’s always had a problem with the idea of banking vacation hours. As for raises, he noted the council is trying to keep some sort of parity between the non-union and union employees at the city.
“We need to take care of our non-represented employees,” Pieper said. “We can’t just have the (union) group getting increases in pay and benefits and holding back others.”
Pieper also scolded the council and staff for not having these details addressed before presenting them for approval that night.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said. “It’s been talked about. A (resident) is raising issues, a councilor is raising some issues; if that’s the case, we need to do our homework before we come up here. If just a speaker can throw a wrench into a conversation …”
He admitted he was “pleasantly surprised” to learn that, overall, the proposal represented a 2.8 percent increase, which is in line with the state’s CPI.
Hodges, too, noted that municipalities can raise fees and taxes and increase employee benefits — a practice that’s not feasible in the private sector.
“I don’t know when that became acceptable,” he said of virtually guaranteed raises in the public realm. “At some point, we need to push back.”
Reach Jane Stebbins at email@example.com .