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Pittsfield Considers Cost of Living Raises For Non-Union Employees

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city is looking to give about $40,000 worth of raises to non-union employees.
On Monday, the City Council's Ordinance and Rules Committee approved changes to the pay scales of both exempt employees and management, both of which are not covered by collective bargaining.
Director of Personnel Michael Taylor said these groups of employees have not seen a cost of living increase in multiple years and he is proposing a 1.5 percent increase.
"We have a group of employees not covered by collective bargaining. So, there has been, over the past several years, no one advocating for these employees. Maybe a proposal has gone before but due to budget concerns that got put on the chopping block because it was something easy to do," Taylor said.
In 2014, the city brought on a consultant to review the city's salaries and make recommendations on the best way to retain and attract employees. That led to a significant boost in pay raises for managers. But the city hadn't kept up with the recommendations to continue cost of living increases for those non-union employees and is on a path to once again fall behind.
"We spent so much time and energy into that study and now we are here in 2018 and we have not taken any of the recommendations from that group," Taylor said.
Taylor said the matter is one of retention. He said when the city's salaries lag behind the market, the turnover rate increases. And with that, there is a significant cost and the loss of expertise and efficiency. 
"We saw a city engineer leave for a position in the private sector and it took us close to nine months to fill that position. A good reason for that is that the pay wasn't competitive," Taylor said.
Taylor said the city has settled contracts with seven collective bargaining units, with most of the unions settling with a cost of living of 1.5 percent and some even below that. But, those unions have the raises locked in for three years and have had raises throughout the last few years. While management last received a boost in pay in 2015 and other non-union employees received a cost of living increase in 2013.
"It has been about four or five years that this group has seen any type of increase other than a step on their anniversary date," Taylor said.
Taylor said the city's pay scale has seven steps, six of which are given on an annual basis. At the 10-year mark, an employee is given the final step raise. And that's it. Only when the City Council approves a cost-of-living increase, which would have to be done every year, do those employees see a raise.
Taylor's plan would cost $40,774 to give the employees retroactive pay for this fiscal year. He said that would come out of each individual department budget. Next year it would cost $41,385 and department heads will know that ahead of time and can prepare budgets accordingly.
"The majority of the department heads responded that they could support it," Taylor said.
 Taylor hopes that the city will continue to provide cost of living increases to these two groups of employees into the future. He said most municipalities in the state offer around 2 percent each year.
Council Vice President John Krol said the move would go a long way toward keeping morale high and employees on the job. He said retaining employees improves the productivity and quality of the work.
"My suggestion is that we don't engage in a race to the bottom on our salaries and our employees," Krol said. "This is consistent with the study we did and it is just common sense. Our employees, the people who work for our city, I think, deserve this. I think they work hard."
Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo, however, took issue with the pay raises for management. While she agrees that exempt, non-management employees should get raises in line with those in a union, she wants the city to move to more of a merit-based system when it comes to raises for managers.
"We wanted to get away from just because you are here for a year you get an increase," Mazzeo said. "You are the head of the group so how you do your job is really how your pay should be. We really wanted it to be a merit-based increase rather than a basic step every year."
Mazzeo said it was only a few years ago when the council approved a large increase for managers and that caught everybody up in pay. She cited the city's difficult budget situation, saying that the raises will have to come from the taxpayers who may not be getting raises.
"If we give employees on this end a raise, in order to pay for it, it has to come out of taxes," she said.
She also cited that the city's health insurance plan is better than those who work in the private sector. However, that may change. Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood just a week ago hinted that the city is working with the Public Employees Committee on health insurance and that could ultimately change the percentages employees pay.
Taylor said he doesn't use the health insurance split as the sole reason for the proposal. While the employees do have a good split on the health insurance, the premiums still go up every year. Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo added that utilities and other costs continue to rise for the workers while the pay doesn't.
"I see no problem with this given the lapse of time [since the last raise]," Caccamo said.
The plan for non-exempt employees passed unanimously. But for management, the vote was split. Mazzeo was joined by Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers in opposing raises for managers while Caccamo and Krol were in favor. Ordinance and Rules Chairman Pete White cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the raises because the plan has a sunset clause requiring further raises to come before the council.
The plan still needs to go before the full City Council for approval.

Tags: ,   ordinance & rules ,   salaries,   

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