Two street department workers in Brainerd will receive raises after stating their cases in front of city council members, who were split on the issue.
Glen Holst and Marvin Bush, both street maintenance workers for the city, requested higher placement on the city’s wage grid during the council’s meeting Tuesday, Feb. 16.
Holst is the last street department employee on the city’s legacy wage plan, which was replaced by an eight-step merit-based wage grid in recent years. City employees hired after Jan. 1, 2019, are automatically placed on the wage grid, but those hired before that date have the option to continue on the legacy plan.
During union negotiations this year, Holst said he was encouraged to come to the city’s wage grid. Per city policy, employees moving to the wage grid are placed on the step closest to their current salary that results in a pay increase. For Holst — who was earning $30.73 per hour under the legacy plan — the corresponding step on the wage grid was step 5, at $30.93. But with 27 years of experience with the city and 10 years with Anderson Brothers Construction before that, Holst requested to be placed at step 6, which is $32.23 an hour, a difference of about $2,700 a year.
Holst started as a Maintenance I worker 1994 and was promoted to a truck driver in a Maintenance II position in 2003. In 2015 he moved to a heavy equipment operator in a Maintenance III and also served as a backup operator from 2003-15.
“I operate every piece of equipment on the street side with a working knowledge of a sewer camera and a sewer vac truck. One of the hardest machines to operate is the motor grader,” Holst told the personnel and finance committee, explaining a motor grader can be up to 14 feet wide and 27 feet long and has 11 levers.
“With that machine, you have to be on top of your game. You have to know what’s going on, and you have to have the experience to operate that,” he said.
Holst also operates street sweepers and other machinery, acts as a crew leader of sorts in the wintertime and addresses concerns from residents who come out to ask questions when street crews are working.
“This basically is just a shortlist,” he said. “And I think with past practice they have shown that you can be placed at a higher wage because of experience, whether you are new to the grid or an existing employee.”
Based on past practices for initial step placement on the wage grid, city staff recommended the council deny the request, though council members had the final say.
City Administrator Jennifer Bergman said during the personnel and finance committee meeting prior to Tuesday’s council meeting the recommendation had nothing to do with Holst’s experience, job performance or value to the city. It was strictly based on city policy, she said.
Personnel and Finance Chair Gabe Johnson worried about the precedent the council would be setting if they were to approve the request, and committee member Tiffany Stenglein — who said she’s a stickler for the rules — agreed. Johnson also said he didn’t like the idea of negotiating salaries with individual employees. Committee member Kevin Stunek, however, disagreed, saying there are always exceptions to rules, and this seems to be one of them. Johnson and Stenglein voted to recommend the council uphold staff’s denial recommendation, while Stunek was opposed.
During the regular council meeting, however, the majority of the council members sided with Stunek.
Council President Kelly Bevans asked Holst why he didn’t bring this issue up during union negotiations, and Holst said he didn’t know he could. Bevans then said he would vote to approve Holst’s request because he felt the wage grid was so new and the city was still getting used to it.
“We should set a precedent, and we should stick by it. We haven’t been able to do that prior to the grid,” Bevans said. “... If every single employee comes up and asks for more money, I’ll take every single one, one at a time.”
Council member Mike O’Day agreed with Bevans, while Stenglein said if the council keeps making exceptions and doesn’t straighten out its precedent now it’s never going to.
Council member Tad Erickson said he was in the favor of the raise, as the wage grid was not meant to be one-size-fits-all.
Johnson’s motion to deny Holst’s request failed, but Stunek’s subsequent motion to approve it passed 5-2, with Johnson and Stenglein opposed.
Bush was promoted from Maintenance II to Maintenance III in January and placed at step 3 of the wage grid, per the city’s policy to place promoted employees at the lowest step of their new position’s wage grid that results in a raise. This placement resulted in a 23 cent raise for Bush, who essentially moved from a truck driver to a mechanic.
However, Bush had been doing some part-time mechanic work as a Maintenance II worker when time allowed. Under the legacy pay structure, he made more than his usual wage when doing that Maintenance III mechanic work, and that increased wage was 90 cents more than he is now making as a full-time Maintenance III worker, which Bush said does not make sense to him. He will still make more money at the end of the year by being a full-time mechanic, but he will be making less money than he made for his part-time mechanic work.
Staff also recommended the council deny this request, per city policy. Johnson and Stenglein also agreed.
“Nobody forced you to take the Maintenance III job. Nobody forced you to fill out that application or accept the job,” Johnson said to Bush during the personnel and finance committee meeting. “I think if there is this hiccup with the old differential that at the time of hiring, maybe you should have tried negotiating up to step 4, but I think coming to the council without union representation two months after you applied for the position, interviewed and received the job offer and accepted the job, I don’t think is good practice.”
Stunek stood firm in the same position he took with Holst.
“This system is very new to our city, and we’ve only had two employees that have stood up and tried to fight for themselves, to make things better in life,” Stunek said. “... We’re not talking a lot of money, so again, I support the staff here.”
Once again, Johnson’s motion to deny the employee’s request failed, and Stunek’s motion to grant Bush’s request passed 5-2, with Johnson and Stenglein opposed.