Damakant Jayshi

Members of the Wausau City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to refer a proposal that would allow some non-union workers a $1,000 payment back to the Human Resources Committee, which previously approved the measure.

Council President Becky McElhaney suggested the path in light of a “ton of confusion, a ton of misinformation floating” about the compensation plan, which prompted significant pushback.

In November, the five-member committee approved the proposal by a 3-2 vote after hearing objections from committee members and others, including Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven, Finance Director Maryanne Groat and others. Critics openly wondered whether the proposal was a back-handed effort to weaken unions by excluding represented employees.

McElhaney added that the one-time lump sum compensation to non-represented employees – roughly a third of the city’s workforce – was not intended as pandemic, COVID-19 or hazard pay, nor did the proposal intend to pit one employee against the other. She suggested the matter should be referred back to committee because the language, including the word ‘bonus,’ was “misconstrued.”

Dist. 3. Alderman Tom Kilian said the situation would be better framed as resulting in unintended consequences, rather than “misconstrued.”

“I think it would be better put that perhaps some worked on this and the consequence was unintended,” Kilian said. “That may be a better term because whether intended or not, the consequences are real.”

Kilian, who had on Nov. 23 accused his colleagues at a Finance Committee meeting of trying to weaken the labor union, reiterated that the proposal under discussion does differentiate between union and non-union employees. Kilian said he wants not only the resolution’s language to be addressed, but that “the disparity be neutralized” as well.

“Relative to the millions of dollars we throw at high-end developments and wealthy developers, the addition of funds to cover all employees…is actually relatively little compared to those other fiscal faux pas the city has made,” Kilian said, adding that the benefits would indeed be tangible. “I assure you…the outcomes of safety and making sure buildings don’t burn to the ground, those are things you can touch. And it’s not based on dollar bills or machines. Those are the humans that make sure the city runs, and those humans are our workers, both union and non-union.”

The HR Committee first approved a lump-sum payment of $1,000 for more than 100 city of Wausau employees – at mid-point or higher on the salary structure – who are not part of the three labor unions. The proposal then went to the Finance Committee on Nov. 23 where a passionate discussion took place, both in favor and against the proposal.

Dist. 7 Alder Lisa Rasmussen, who chairs the Finance Committee, said in November the group could only make a decision on the resolution they were presented with. The group directed Wausau Human Resources Director Toni Vanderboom to make adjustments to the proposal before the City Council made a decision. She also asked Vanderboom to look into hazard pay and longevity benefits plan for employees.

On Tuesday, Rasmussen said the word ‘bonus’ created a “volume of misunderstanding” that was “compounded by communications by our organized labor unions, but from local labor councils and from chiefs of our public safety departments.”

“It does need some work,” said Rasmussen. “Whenever you have groups of workers who have the ability to negotiate (pay) every two years and groups that never can, you automatically have disparity whether you wanted it or not.”

Rasmussen also insisted the discussion should not be about union vs. non-union, or fairness vs. unfairness but rather about the consequences of that disparity, “especially in the work group that has no power to negotiate.”

All 11 City Council members voted for the referral to the HR Committee.

McElhaney, who is also chair of the HR Committee, clarified that the group did not intend to favor one set of City’s employees over another. The committee, she said, was tasked by the Finance and Capital Improvements and Street Maintenance committees to find, on a narrow scope, something as a “recruitment and retention tool now.” Human Resources then worked on the compensation model and presented the plan to the HR Committee.

“That’s what we did,” said McElhaney. “Is it perfect? Absolutely not. We did the best we could, trying to be as fair as possible.” 

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(To view the HR Committee’s presentation justifying the lump sum compensation for non-union employees, click here and go to page 147. To read the resolution that was amended on Tuesday, go to page 141.)

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.

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Damakant Jayshi Amid strong opposition, the Finance Committee of the City of Wausau on Tuesday narrowly approved a proposal to give a one-time $1,000 bonus to more than 100 staff members who are not represented by unions. Since the language of the resolution on providing the one-time amount created confusion and drew significant opposition, the…