|Pittsfield Approves Cost of Living Adjustment For Management|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
01:42PM / Thursday, February 15, 2018
|Michael Taylor presented his proposal to the City Council on Tuesday.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Council Vice President John Krol doesn't want the city to engage in a "race to the bottom" when it comes to how the employees are treated.
But, the approval didn't come easy. A few city councilors opposed the raise for managers, saying the workers should only get a raise based on merit instead of cost-of-living increases. Those councilors said the many companies in the private sector do not provide increases, many private sector workers have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and they pay for a greater percentage of health insurance.
"It is morally repugnant that we have an economy where that is the case. It is totally unacceptable that health insurance is a burden in the private sector," Krol responded.
The city doesn't have to further those trends, he said, and the increase will pay itself back with a reduction in costs related to job turnover, which Taylor said quickly adds up.
Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon looked at the management wages and said they sit just barely above the federal poverty level.
"What I am hearing is that we are OK with our managers, who are overseeing our departments, receiving $1,500 over the low-income bracket?" Moon said in response to those who oppose the increases.
For Moon, it is a matter of standing up for the middle class. She said inflation goes up 2 to 3 percent every year and without the cost of living increase, wages stay the same mostly. From year to year, the city worker's buying power decreases.
"The cost of living still is going up. Gas rates go up. When we buy oil, our oil rates keep going up. These numbers fluctuate and we need to accommodate that," Moon said.
But Councilors Melissa Mazzeo, Christopher Connell, and Kevin Morandi said the city simply can't afford to do that. They said the managers are still eligible for 2 percent step increases, based on the mayor's determination, to move up and across the salary matrix. That, the councilors said, should be enough to recognize their work.
"The main thing we wanted to accomplish was trying to get away from pay being paid on time and for solely on merit," Connell said of the 2014 study that found the city's wages were lagging behind other communities. The council had approved a major overhaul of salaries.
"Originally there was a big increase with some back pay that was suggested at that time."
A merit system has yet to be put in place. Taylor said he is in the process of rolling such a system out. But, that still doesn't change his plans to return to the council every year to ask for cost-of-living increases.
Taylor was careful to separate the individual employees from the salary scales. The cost-of-living proposal is just to keep salaries across the scale in line with others in the industry, and offset inflation. Merit raises would be extra incentives to individual employees for performance.
"You are not trying to give this COLA just to give raises, you are trying to give raises to affect this table," said Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers.
Taylor said it was found in 2014 that the city's pay scales lagged behind similar jobs in other communities by 12 percent. With help of a consultant, the city crafted new scales, which gave a large boost.
However, Taylor said another recommendation was to raise those set salaries by the level of inflation to keep them in line with the market. That hasn't been done yet.
"Our management scale is not competitive with what we see in the private industry," said Councilor at Large Peter White.
Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo, however, refuted much of that argument because few employees are at the bottom of the pay scale. Employees are eligible for step raises after certain years, can move to other job levels with the mayor's discretion, and the mayor can start an employee off at any level -- not necessarily step one. She said not one of the 30 managers in this employee class fall into the bottom three position levels.
"If somebody is really going above and beyond in the work, the administration has all of the control with the steps," Mazzeo said.
Connell questioned why the city wouldn't just use the administration's ability to move up the pay scale as a way to raise salaries.
Mazzeo continued to say city workers receive significantly better benefits than those in the private sector, which makes up for any lagging behind in salary, and the cost of living in the Berkshires is less than elsewhere. She said she knows people who would work for the city "in a heartbeat" solely for the benefits package.
But Taylor said the 85 percent to 15 percent split for insurance is likely going to change. The city has been in discussion with the Public Employees Committee on changes to the split.
Mazzeo responded that if that happened, then she would be willing to discuss raising salaries as a trade-off for the workers taking on the additional burden.
Morandi said the city's financial picture has gotten worse since the 2014 recommendations,
"We are stretched out to the max. Our taxpayers are stretched out to the max," he said. "We can't afford it, is the bottom line."
But Krol said it makes more financial sense to do it. The cost-of-living raises help keep employees from taking other jobs. When an employee leaves, there is a significant cost to refill the position. Taylor said there are impacts on the worker cashing in unused accrued time, advertising the position, time to interview, training costs, and sometime pre-employment physicals. All of that becomes "pricey," Taylor said.
Ultimately, the measure was approved by an 8-3 vote, with Mazzeo, Connell, and Morandi opposing it.