Crow Wing County: Performance-based pay accepted in 'historic' union agreement

In what was called a "historic" step for Crow Wing County, the county board approved a union contract that moved all of its members to performance-based pay at its Tuesday meeting.

In what was called a "historic" step for Crow Wing County, the county board approved a union contract that moved all of its members to performance-based pay at its Tuesday meeting.

Thirty highway department employees who are part of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 49 settled a contract that also included a shift to job assignments based upon qualifications and performance rather than seniority and elimination of premium pay for equipment operation.

"This, with the highway department, is a significant unit with many members completely signed on to performance-based pay without any caveats, reservations," said Tim Houle, county administrator. "That's historic for public employees to be paid on the basis of their performance, not on the basis of seniority or time in the grade."

Most counties, Houle said, use a step-and-grade pay system which includes built-in raises each year of service.

Tami Laska, human resources director, said she was happy with the engagement levels the union stewards and business agent. The movement of all the affected employees to performance-based pay is a "sign of the collaboration of the work that's been done between management and staff and the level of confidence they have that they system is going to work for them."


"Moving this group to performance-based pay, I can only imagine that that's got to be helpful," Commissioner Paul Thiede said. "Anything we can do to get them more engaged in their job and encourage them, I think is a positive."

Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said as a large employer, the county should be a leader for the community.

"We are moving the culture," she said. "That's huge. It's not all the way there, but boy, we look behind us and we have made significant achievements, and I think our county population would be really pleased to hear it."

Thiede and Nystrom praised County Engineer Tim Bray for his leadership in the highway department fostering an environment of trust.

"If you did not have the trust and support of your employees, we would not be having this contract," Nystrom said.

Laska said performance-based pay systems are more common in the private sector. Currently, the county has approximately 100 of its 400 employees moved completely to performance-based pay. Other contracts include clauses that sets new employees on performance-based pay and moves current employees to the system once they have completed the step schedule. The county has not put money toward the step system since 2012, Laska said.

The county also approved contracts with Teamsters Local 346, which includes nine corrections and dispatch sergeants, and with the Law Enforcement Labor Services of Minnesota (LELS) on behalf of communications officers in the sheriff's office.

The Teamsters agreement includes moving employees from the step plan to performance-based as they reach the maximum unless they choose to move to the plan voluntarily. The contract also includes a change in classification of the job and a modification to health insurance benefits the end at age 65 instead of through age 65.


The LELS agreement does not include adoption of performance-based pay. Instead, the group agreed to open range pay, which allows the county to negotiate adjustments each year that do not include predetermined steps. The union agreed to a 2.5 percent increase in 2014 and 2 percent each in 2015 and 2016. The contract adjusted shift differential, which is extra compensation for employees working outside of normal working hours, from 50 cents to 70 cents more, and also changed the job classification from pay grade 13 to 14.

The board closed its meeting following committee reports to engage in the labor negotiations.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .

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 or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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