By Shereen Siewert

In an effort to retain staff, city leaders are considering a proposal to offer some employees a one-time $1,000 bonus, but police, fire and other workers represented by a union would not qualify.

Of the city’s roughly 350 employees, the Human Resources department
identified 103 workers eligible for the bonus, which would be paid for through “the (tax) levy, utilities, and other funding sources available,” according to city documents. Recruitment and retention efforts are currently focusing on non-represented employees who have not received cost-of-living increases, Wausau Human Resources Director Toni Vanderboom told the city’s Human Resources Committee earlier this month.

For all but eight employees identified, the lump sum is greater than 1 percent of their annual pay. The bonus would be prorated for part-time employees.

Vanderboom said some union-represented employees, such as police officers, have already received increases based on seniority – but acknowledged that other department’s employees also receive step increases to advance through the pay scale.

Vanderboom told Wausau Pilot & Review that the time it takes for non-represented employees to advance through the salary scale was identified as a “significant recruitment and retention concern” for Wausau.

Baring promotional increases, non-represented employees reach maximum pay after 17-21 years, Vanderboom said.

“The lump sum bonus is intended as an effort to retain non-represented employees who are not affected by the 2022 budget initiative to shorten the salary range for non-represented employees,” she said.

Represented employees negotiate pay and benefits during contract negotiations.  Under their current contracts, all three unions reduced either the number of salary steps or the amount of time needed to advance through their salary scales.  The City anticipates entering into negotiations with all three unions (police, fire and transit) in 2022 and future discussions regarding pay and benefits for these employee groups may be taken up for future consideration by the Council.

The city’s Human Resources Committee voted 3-2 to move the proposal forward. Dist. 5 Alder James Wadinski, a retired police officer, questioned the effectiveness of offering a “retention” bonus when those employees could simply walk away.

“Is a lump sump a good practice for retention?” Wadinski asked, during the Nov. 8 meeting. “In my mind, is it really a bonus or incentive to stay here for more than a year? I don’t think this is for me. I don’t think it’s the right way to go at this time.”

Vanderboom told the Committee that the model was chosen for several reasons. One centers on the Fair Labor Standards Act, which Vanderboom said would require the city to calculate bonuses into the overtime rate if the city attached requirements such as staying on for a certain length of time. That, she said, would be “very difficult for payroll.”

But she acknowledged that while structuring the bonuses in this way makes sense to adhere to FLSA standards, doing so makes the strategy “a little bit less effective for retention purposes.”

“Somebody could get this bonus and then leave,” Vanderboom said. “We’re looking at it as retention through recognition.”

Wadinski, along with Dist. 9 Alderwoman Dawn Herbst, voted against the proposal, which will be discussed during Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting. Michael Martens, Becky McElhaney and Lou Larson voted in favor.

The Committee also discussed additional retention efforts that include amending vacation accrual policies to allow employees additional time off, something Mayor Katie Rosenberg said has come up in every hiring conversation she’s had in the past year.

“They want (the time off,)” Rosenberg said. “But I also want people that work here to take time off so they’re refreshed when they are working here for the people, because it is a grind.”

Attempts to reach the Marathon County Labor Council were not immediately successful on Tuesday.

The Finance Committee meeting is at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 407 Grant St., Wausau. Find the complete packet, below.