The recently adopted 2016 Crawford County Budget contains the final installment of larger raises for 29 supervisory and other county employees.
The origin of the raises was a wage study completed by Carlson-Dettman in 2007. That study 0f non-represented employees used wage comparisons of similar jobs to other counties and concluded that while county wages near the bottom of the pay range were comparable, wages at the higher end for the pay range were lower than other counties.
The study recommended raises for the non-represented staff positions. However, all raises were put on hold in 2008 and 2009 as the country and the world plunged into a massive recession.
With an improving economy, the thought of instituting those larger raises was revived. The 29 employees, like the rest of the county employees, have been receiving small cost-of-living raises identical to those negotiated by the law enforcement union for sheriff’s department personnel.
In 2014, the Crawford County Board Personnel Committee, which is responsible for setting employee wages, decided it was time to reinstate the proposal prepared by the consulting firm, Carlson-Dettman, for the Classification and Compensation Study of Non-Represented Employees.
In the study, Crawford County “non-represented” employee wages was compared to seven other counties—Iowa, Juneau, Richland, Lafayette, Monroe, Vernon and Grant.
The plan as proposed would have granted the original “non-represented” employees an across the board increase of their base pay by 2.5 percent in January of 2008 and another three percent across the board raise for the 29 employees in July of 2008. The cost for this package was estimated at about $28,000.
Ultimately, the plan that would’ve raised the “non-represented” county employees’ pay by 5.5 percent was never implemented because of the recession.
Flash forward to February 7, 2014, the Crawford County Board Personnel Committee approves a plan that would increase wages to county employees identified in 2008 as the “non-represented” employees. The list now includes just 27 employees. The plan as approved by the committee gives those 27 county employees raises of two percent in July 2014, four percent in January 2015 and the final four percent in January 2016. There will be no further increases given after that time, according to the committee’s motion. The raises total 10 percent. The original Carlson Dettman proposal called for 5.5 percent.
Since the wage study was prepared, the state legislature passed Act 10 and Governor Scott Walker signed the bill. It made it impossible for government unions to bargain for anything more than the cost of living raises. So, more than 100 county workers, which were represented by a union ceased to be represented, when the union was not recertified because it lost its bargaining ability.
Now, Crawford County has only non-represented workers with the exception of the law enforcement union negotiating for sheriff’s department personnel.
Cost of living raises for the former union workers, like the sheriff’s department union employees, were one percent in 2014, 1.4 percent in 2015 and will be 1.4 percent in 2016. That’s a total of 3.8 percent raises. The 27 employees originally identified as “non-represented” also received those cost of living raises in addition to the 10 percent step pay raises. So, while the former union workers received 3.8 percent raises in the three-year timeframe, the 27 employees identified as “non-represented” in 2007 received 13.8 percent in raises during the same time period.
In addition to the 27 employees originally identified as “non-represented” in 2007, the county personnel committee also approved the larger step raises for the elected employees, like the county clerk, clerk of courts, coroner, county treasurer and sheriff.
The rationale for the original study was that over 100 county employees were represented by a union that was bargaining in their best interests, while 29 other employees were “non-represented” and therefore had no entity bargaining on their behalf. It should be noted that the county government did give raises to these “non-represented” employees based on what was given to the union employees.
Crawford County Board Chairperson Pete Flesch was not the chairperson when the study was initiated, but did serve on the board as supervisor. He said the wage study was commissioned to put department heads and some other employees on par with compensation of other counties.
The study attempted to see if Crawford County’s “non-represented” employees were being fairly compensated when compared to similar counties. The results showed that some people were being underpaid, Flesch explained.
The county decided to put in several steps to increase the wages, but the process was interrupted by the recession. Classifications were established to create certain salary ranges and job descriptions were created.
While there were represented and non-represented workers in the county department when the study was undertaken, Act 10 effectively eliminated union representation for all but the law enforcement employees.
“Frankly, I think another study needs to be done,” Flesch said of the current situation. “The study that was done didn’t take that (loss of union representation) into account.”
Flesch noted wage studies are recommended every eight to 10 years anyway. So, he will recommend a new wage study be considered.
“I think it would be a good idea,” Flesch said. “The world has changed since Act 10.”
The county board chairperson explained that Act 10 forced counties to create employee handbooks in lieu of what used to be covered by union contracts.
“We along with other counties knew it had to be done quickly,” Flesch said of creating the handbook. “We were adjusting it on the fly, modifying it as we went along. We had to add things that were supposed to be in it and take out things that were not supposed to be in it.”
Flesch acknowledged the current situation is causing some problems because all of the employees, except the law enforcement employees, are now non-represented.
“Morale has been an issue ever since Act 10. It was the worst in the fall of the first year, but we have not fully recovered yet,” Flesch explained.
The county board chairperson favors another wage study to add “fairness and transparency” to the situation.
Will Flesch propose a wage study be undertaken?
Flesch pointed out such a study would be expensive and would have to be included in the 2017 budget, since the 2016 budget has already been approved.
“It’s definitely something I will look into,” Flesch said. “It’s something on my radar.”
Maura Garrity, formerly a union representative in the county employee union, said she is happy for those who got the opportunity to have job evaluations and received significant raises over the past 16 months, but she has a lot of questions about the process which she believes is unfair, discriminatory and flawed.
“In fairness, the personnel committee really needs to look at all the positions, not just non-union employees from 2007,” Garrity said. “Lots has changed for a lot of employees over the past eight years.”
Garrity takes issue with excluding all former union employees from any consideration in the wage adjustments.
“I am not aware of any other county that approached a wage study in this way and left out such a large group of employees, some who require masters or bachelors degrees and licenses for their positions, simply because they were once in a union,” said Garrity, who works as a social worker for the county and previously represented professionals in the county employee union. “Union members never had job evaluations.”
Crawford County Clerk Janet Geisler said she wanted to see “a complete understanding of the situation.”
Geisler said after a two-year wage freeze and seven years later, nothing had ever been implemented.
“The county paid for something and then nothing was ever done,” she noted.
The county clerk said the study was an attempt to try to get department heads higher wages.
As for doing another wage study including all of the, now, non-represented county employees, Geisler was skeptical.
“I don’t know if the county could even afford to do that,” the county clerk said. “It’s the county’s decision. It would have to go to the personnel committee.”