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Crow Wing County Board: Another union moves toward performance-based pay

Another union representing Crow Wing County employees has agreed to move toward performance-based pay. The county reached a three-year agreement Tuesday with 79 employees represented by AFSCME, the nation's largest public services employee union....

Another union representing Crow Wing County employees has agreed to move toward performance-based pay.

The county reached a three-year agreement Tuesday with 79 employees represented by AFSCME, the nation's largest public services employee union. The agreement includes a phasing out of a traditional step plan, which typically includes a pre-determined raise as an employee gains seniority and experience in the position.

Given cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), Human Resource Director Tamra Laska said utilizing the step pay system can result in at least 7 percent yearly increases.

"The step and COLA pay system is out of sync with providing the highest quality services at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers," Laska stated in a press release. "It drives high wages and fails to differentiate between the quality of work being achieved."

A COLA has not been applied to the union's step system since 2012. Employees will have the opportunity to "finish out" their progression through the steps but were also given the choice to transition to performance-based pay. Of the 79 employees, 29 percent opted for performance-based pay. All new hires beginning Jan. 1 will be automatically enrolled.

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Those employees who have reached the maximum step or are new to a particular unit covered by AFSCME who have not opted for performance-based pay will move to an open-range pay plan. This means the county will negotiate pay with an employee within a particular range. This results in a more manageable increase in wages for the county, Laska said.

Laska said giving employees the option to switch to performance-based pay might actually improve earning opportunities for the high-performing. An employee given an exceptional performance rating will receive a 5 to 6.5 percent raise depending upon the grade of their position and where they fall within the minimum and maximum wage for each grade.

The county's performance-based pay matrix shows that only employees who receive a rating of "in development or needs improvement" or "unsatisfactory" will not receive a raise. In 2013, just 2.3 percent of 377 county employees were given this rating, while 28 percent received "exceeds expectations" or "exceptional" ratings.

The fact that 29 percent of AFSCME employees chose to move to performance-based pay is a testament to leadership in innovative practices, Laska told the county board.

"People are becoming more comfortable with this type of pay delivery system," she said.

Department heads and supervisors meet to discuss how they rate employees to ensure consistency and fairness in the process, Laska said. Employees do have an opportunity to appeal their performance rating if they do not agree. In 2013, two county employees chose to protest their ratings.

Ultimately, the goal will be to shift all employees away from a step system. Laska said two unions have not yet made a move toward performance-based pay and are currently in mediation over their contracts.

The county board also approved a contract with the Assistant County Attorney's Association, which represents seven prosecuting attorneys in the county attorney's office. This union left a step plan a couple years ago, Laska said, and the agreement includes an open range pay plan and a modified performance-based pay schedule, which requires the employees must demonstrate satisfactory performance.

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CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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