Compensation concessions draw public concern

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Two city of Lincoln employees took a stand for concessions they and others have already taken. That happened during the compensation portion of Friday’s fiscal sustainability committee meeting, which took more than seven hours to complete. The employees both asked that the committee include in their report which concessions city staff have already taken in the past year. “In going down some of these recommendations, the employees have done some of these things and some have been in place for three years,” said city clerk Pat Avila. “It would behoove the committee to help employee morale by saying that this has been done.” The recommended items Avila was referring to included the committee’s suggestion to freeze cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), merit salary increases and the suspension of reimbursement for state disability insurance payments. “You are not giving credit to the employees who have already done this, saying this is a brand new idea,” Avila said. “I don’t think this is fair to the employees.” Committee member Mike Miller responded to Avila’s comments by saying, “There is a lot of content in the report that speaks to what Pat has said.” “In the report, it says that some of these concessions have been done and that applies to multiple portions of the report,” Miller said. Lincoln assistant director of development George Dellwo had comments similar to Avila’s. “To the city clerk’s point, the report gives the citizens viewing this report the impression that we’ve been sitting on our duffs and not accepting any of these concessions,” Dellwo said. “It’s a disservice to employees and management. Management has been implementing a lot of these things already and (the items) should not be on the report.” Dellwo also commented on the recommendation to eliminate bilingual pay. “Twenty-six percent of the community is Hispanic, I hope you realize that,” Dellwo said. Compensation subcommittee chairman Richard MacKirdy addressed the employees’ comments. “I want all of you, especially city employees, to know there is likely no person more sensitive to your employment situation than me,” MacKirdy said. “I am extremely sensitive to the implications in this report.” MacKirdy stated that “all emotion has been taken out of these.” “It was decided we needed to go along the lines of no emotion,” MacKirdy said. “That’s why when you see the recommendation, it doesn’t say we understand you are already suffering. All we are saying is if you do this, this is what the cost savings will be.” Consultant Tom Sinclair, who is assisting the committee with creating the report, suggested language be changed for some of the compensation recommendations. “The FSC recommends that the city meet and confer with bargaining units is the language I suggest for all of these,” Sinclair. The committee also spent a couple of hours discussing educational pay for employees, originally suggesting that the city suspend “payments for educational pursuits not already included in an employee’s wages” and called for the “roll back or termination of all educational credits in wages.” The discussion resulted in the creation of a new recommendation, which reads “payment for required education, certification and licenses be included in base compensation and that additional pay should occur only when education, certification, or licenses exceed this minimum qualifications of a job classification and is used in the performance of a position.” City Manager Jim Estep addressed the committee regarding their suggestion to implement furlough days. “We’ve had furloughs and furloughs are generally used as a short-term measure,” Estep said. “The problem with furloughs is you only get salary and not benefits. The reason we discontinued furloughs is because you continue to get a higher percent of benefit cost with less time for people to work.” The committee voted to delete the recommendation regarding furloughs.