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Tosa works through issues in a world without public unions

Oct. 10, 2012

The state's budget repair bill enacted last year reduced bargaining power for most public employees.

In Wauwatosa, the bill has had the effect of rendering unions representing city employees inactive, and the city is beginning the process of structuring pay and other aspects of employee compensation that were formerly negotiated.

"All of the people who were in unions that aren't now, their compensation system was contractual," said Human Resources Director Beth Aldana. "We need to make a decision about what kind of compensation system these formerly represented positions should have."

This does not apply to members of the police and fire unions, which like their counterparts elsewhere in the state retain full bargaining power.

There were 77 non-represented city workers before Act 10, said city Finance Director John Ruggini, and they worked under a step system of pay increases. The number of non-represented employees added since then is 156, Ruggini said.

Envisioning a new system

Aldana said a new comprehensive system is needed. It may or may not look like the system non-union employees worked under before Act 10, she said.

The first step is to understand where the city stands in relation to other employers. Aldana asked the Budget Committee last month to allow the city to hire a consultant, at $45,000 to $50,000, taken from the 2012 budget, to study what comparable employers are paying for similar positions.

"We would identify all of the positions that we wanted reviewed and then a consultant gathers market data on comparable positions," she said.

The study would also include "an element of pay for performance," Aldana said. A third feature of the study will include recommendations for implementation.

The study may take four or five months, and policies drawn from it may be implemented at some point next year, she said.

Aldana said that before Act 10, the city's goal was to pay its non-represented employees at or slightly above market rates, and it periodically did compensation studies of those employees. The city also has begun doing a market study for each new position. This has created what officials refer to as "two-tier" system of compensation - one tier for new employees and another for existing employees.

The consultant's work may show that some filled positions are above market rates while others are below. Aldana said "it's possible" that pay rates may be adjusted up or down, but said it was "way too early to say." Those policy decisions will be made by the Common Council, she noted.

Creating better workers

Beyond pay, Aldana seeks to put an employee development program in place.

"It's a very broad concept," she said. "It could mean improving skills. It could mean enhancing skills they currently have, or acquiring new skills."

Either way, it would provide "professional opportunities for employees, so they can continue to grow and learn as employees," Aldana said.

She looks to have a busy year, reviewing compensation, and implementing a comprehensive city safety program designed to protect workers and cut health care costs and workers compensation claims.

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