NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council during its special meeting on Tuesday approved changes in the compensation plan that brings all city employees up to at least the state minimum wage of $12 an hour.
"This is to adjust the scale for all employees who receive minimum wage," Mayor Thomas Bernard told the council.
The revised plan adjusts all city-side workers to the current state minimum wage of $12 an hour, also retroactive to Jan. 1. The council also approved a revised compensation plan that raises police officer wages by a half percent retroactive to Jan. 1 as part of the city's departure from Civil Service and the adoption of a light-duty policy.
Council President Keith Bona asked if the council could receive some information on the progression of the state's minimum wage and how it will affect finances. Bernard thought that would be a good topic to take up during budget deliberations.
"We're going to have to have a real conversation about the long-term implications of this because between now and 2023, that's a 25 percent salary increase for minimum wage staff as we hold contractual agreements to a couple of percent a year," the mayor said. "It's going to have an impact on salaried staff who suddenly find themselves at a comparable rate — even though the salaried position carries benefits and other perks."
Gov. Charlie Baker signed the law last June that laid out the annual steps to raise the minimum wage from $11 an hour at that time to $15. The new $12 rate went into effect on Jan. 1; each year, the wage will rise by increments of 75 cents until it reaches $15 on Jan. 1, 2023. (Tipped wages will rise over that period from $4.35 on Jan. 1 this year to $6.75 in 2023.)
North Adams has largely kept pace with minimum wage changes in recent years although cities and towns are exempt; they must follow the federal wage law of at least $7.25 an hour. None of the hourly rates listed on the fiscal 2019 compensation plan for the city workers were under $10 and only a few were under $11. Bernard said this change did not include the School Department, which has a different compensation plan overseen by the School Committee.
Councilor Jason LaForest commended the mayor for bringing employees up to the state minimum wage.
"It's an unfortunate exemption within the commonwealth that municipalities do not have to pay their workers minimum wage," he said. "It's incredibly unfortunate, so I want to thank the mayor in taking this step."
Bernard acknowledged Councilor Marie T. Harpin for her efforts on pushing this increase on behalf of city staff.
"I think it's important that they are at least at minimum wage," she said.
The library trustees had also been concerned that staff at the public library, many of whom are part-time, were appropriately compensated. The trustees submitted a letter in support of the wage hike and resident Alice Cande spoke to the issue during hearing of visitors.
"Even if you work at McDonald's you get more when you walk in the door," she said, commending the library employees who have stayed on despite the low pay and lack of benefits. "It's hard to believe people would stay five years part-time."
Bernard said the library employees had been an issue but the rise in minimum wage would affect all employees on the city side. He did not have an exact count but believed there were fewer than a dozen positions.
"It's setting a good example for the businesses that the city is taking on this hardship as well," said Councilor Rebbecca Cohen.
The compensation plan was unanimously approved, with Councilor Wayne Wilkinson absent, and passed to a second reading and published.
In other business:
Three members of the Human Services Commission were reappointed with terms to expire on Feb. 1, 2022: Jennifer Boland, Jo Ann Lipa Bates and Rachelle Smith. A fourth member, David Motta, was appointed to complete a term to expire Feb. 1, 2021.
Michael Leary and Lisa Blackmer were reappointed to the Planning Board, both with terms to expire on Feb. 1, 2024.
Three people were reappointed to the Traffic Commission: Mary Ann King and David Sacco, both for terms to expire Jan. 11, 2021, and Paul Markland for a term to expire Jan. 10, 2022. Newly appointed to the commission were Ian Wilson for a term to expire Jan. 10, 2022, and Police Det. Jonathan Beaudreau for a term to expire Jan. 11, 2021.
In response to a question about if city staff were paid to attend these meetings, Bernard said salaried staff are not given extra recompense and that hourly staff did so as volunteers. King and Beaudreau both work in the Police Department and Markland is the city's highway foreman.
Several other ordinance matters were postponed again because the committees reviewing them had been unable to meet. A communication from Councilor Eric Buddington about adding bicycle lane authorizations to the city's ordinances was referred to the Traffic Commission at his request.
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