MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

November 2, 2013

Pay for city workers out of step

It has been 20 to 30 years since city of Muskogee officials have conducted a top-to-bottom evaluation of non-sworn workers’ job classifications and pay grade scales.

Labor Relations Manager Michael Bates, who oversaw a year-and-a-half-long study done to compensate for that deficiency, said such an effort should be conducted every five to 10 years.  

Bates said for one reason or another that hasn’t been done. As a result, the city’s pay plan has been hanging for about 20 years, resulting in pay rates being frozen for some employees and bottlenecked for others.

“What we have in Muskogee right now is they have frozen all the steps, so you have 85 (percent) to 95 percent of the employees all lumped together,” Bates said. “That can create some unusual outcomes and huge disparities.”

Bates said a compensation schedule that functions normally provides some variance in pay based upon knowledge, experience and expertise. Because the step system here has been frozen so long, there are some longtime employees whose compensation packages haven’t kept up as they would have otherwise.

A reclassification and compensation study city councilors are reviewing now and scheduled to consider for approval later this month is expected to resolve some of those issues. The study found compensation rates for the city’s non-uniform employees fell below half the median, meaning more than 75 percent of their peers in similar markets earn higher wages for performing comparable work.

The median is a point that equally divides a range of numbers — in this case the value of an employee’s compensation rate. Bates used the term P-50 to represent the median point at which half of a designated class’ compensation rate is higher and the other half is lower.

“As a rule, you never want to fall below P-35 or P-40,” Bates told city councilors earlier this year, noting the market rates are beginning to tick upward. “When you get below P-35 or P-40, that’s when you will see a lot of turnover, and there is some dysfunction that comes along with that.”

Avoiding that dysfunction requires a decision to set budgetary priorities to “maintain an appropriate compensation program.” That, Bates said, typically ends up being a “function of available dollars” and how those dollars are spent.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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