Council rescinded their approval of the 1.9 per cent cost of living increase in wages for non-union Town of Hinton employees after an error came to light about a previous wage increase. The motion will be rescinded effective Feb. 12, 2021 at 4 pm.
“A serious turning point for me was the information we received Friday from the CAO indicating that in 2019 there had in fact been a three per cent cost of living increase allotted through that budgetary process,” stated Coun. Ryan Maguhn, adding that it changed the way he would have voted initially.
Administration recognized an omission in the non-union wage increase report, after council already approved the increase during the regular council meeting on Feb. 2.
The report erroneously included a zero per cent wage increase for non-union staff through the 2019 budget process, when in reality they received a three per cent increase that year.
“As soon as it was brought to my attention it was something that we began working on right away to make sure council had the right information as soon as it was known. It was an unintentional error and a symptom of how fast we’re moving on that side of the hallway,” said Hinton CAO Emily Olsen.
The error also resulted in the compound increase since 2012 being reflected as 13.9 per cent instead of the 16.9 per cent actual.
Coun. Albert Ostashek stated that when the increase was approved last week, a lot of that decision was based on the chart that showed discrepancy between non-union and union staff. Having the additional information justified rescinding the motion, he added.
Taking into consideration the actual increase, the union wages have outpaced the non-union wages by approximately 4.4 per cent, rather than the previously reported 7.4 per cent.
To address that issue, council requested a report be brought to the 2022 budget process with specific compression challenges within the Town and strategies to address the issue.
“I wasn’t comfortable with a blanket increase but I am interested in learning about specific challenges and instances of compression that administration is dealing with in regards to the organization’s workforce,” said Coun. Tyler Waugh.
He added that there may be some solutions to the issue other than monetary increases.
Coun. Dewly Nelson said that this report would have a better chance of holistic discussion for citizens, administration, and council if it is part of an overarching budget conversation.
“This is a highly polarized topic for council. I feel that if it comes back to council, really any time in the next few months, it’s likely not something that’s going to be considered with enough objectivity,” he said.
Funds budgeted for the proposed and rescinded cost of living increase, which equals $63,649, will be allocated to the recreation centre construction reserve in the meantime.
Council discussed whether there were any other reserves the money should be placed in, but Nelson pointed out that the money can easily be taken out of the reserve if council wants to place it somewhere else.
“At the beginning of this meeting, administration asked if it gets rescinded, they need to know where we are putting the money. Ultimately, it’s simply putting the money somewhere,” he said.
Waugh added that this funding replenishes almost half of what was not put into the reserve during the 2021 budget process.
A $115,000 increase was included in the 2021 budget for non-union wages, made up of the 1.9 per cent increase, the grid step movements estimated at $42,202, as well as slight increases to over-time, stand-by, and call-out pay associated with the grid step movements.
The 1.9 per cent increase of $63,649 was intended to match the 1.9 per cent union wage increase.
Olsen outlined some of the reasons for the increase during the Feb. 2 regular council meeting, including insufficient compression rates, where employees can make more than their supervisor.
During that meeting, Waugh and Nelson both suggested taking a more targeted approach to the positions affected by compression.
Further unmatched increase to union-wages would contribute to an insufficient compression rate, which contributes to an imbalanced pay structure and can negatively impact workplace culture, Olsen stated. This impacts recruitment and retention, as well as being a competitive employer compared to other municipalities.
Olsen pointed out that some staff received temporary layoffs, unpaid overtime, and holiday blackouts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The majority of Hinton’s non-union employees have reached the top of their pay grid, and do not receive increases outside of any cost of living increases each year.
For union employees, the timing of this increase is not conditional and is an automatic progression.
For non-union employees, the step movement timing is prescribed in Employment Offer Letters.
Since 2012, the union successfully negotiated increases, and the salary workforce received smaller increases.
The Town has 164 employees, 47 of which are non-union. These employees are in positions throughout the organization, ranging from clerical staff to directors.
Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice