Longevity pay may have been issue
Clues emerged Monday that point to a months-old dispute over longevity pay as one of the issues that led Mitchell city employees to unionize. While talking Monday about issues surrounding the formation of the union, Mitchell Mayor Lou Sebert ment...
Clues emerged Monday that point to a months-old dispute over longevity pay as one of the issues that led Mitchell city employees to unionize.
While talking Monday about issues surrounding the formation of the union, Mitchell Mayor Lou Sebert mentioned a desire by some city employees for a longevity-pay package similar to the one that some public safety workers receive.
When asked whether longevity pay was the main issue that caused city employees to form the union, Sebert said "I really don't know that." Union representative Paul Aylward also declined to identify the specific complaints that drove employees to organize a union.
Animosity over longevity pay dates to at least last year, when the council agreed to address high turnover in certain public safety jobs by instituting bigger longevity bonuses that take effect earlier. As part of the deal struck with the police and fire unions, the council also required that new hires must reimburse the city for certain costs -- such as police officer training -- if they quit within three years of their hiring.
Nick Traupel, a member of the city's engineering staff, attended a City Council budget hearing in August and questioned the fairness of giving one class of city workers better longevity pay than others.
"Do you guys see this as fair," Traupel asked the council at the time, "to the other employees in the city?"
The Daily Republic could not reach Traupel for an interview Monday. Whether he is among the employees who proposed the new union is unknown publicly, because none of those employees has come forward.
Council members told Traupel in August that police and fire longevity bonuses were meant to address a problem of turnover that was specific to those two divisions. No other city departments, they said, were experiencing such high turnover and therefore were not in need of upgraded longevity packages. The citywide turnover rate was said to be less than 10 percent, according to statistics quoted at the August meeting.
"I think most of our employees have it pretty decent," Councilman Allen Lepke said at the time, "and apparently they think so, too, because they're sticking around."
Council President Jeff Smith expressed a similar position Monday and said that, according to recent reports, the new longevity pay seems to be reducing the turnover in the Public Safety Department.
Smith said he does not know if the longevity issue motivated city employees to form the new union, and he's reserving judgment about the union until he hears what its members want to negotiate.
"We'll be interested to see exactly what they thought they were unable to obtain from the council," Smith said.