Saline Takes Step To Prevent Gender Based Pay Discrimination

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Update: After this article was published, Sage, which did not respond to requests to comment before the article. After the article was published, Sage's Heidi Reyst told the Sun Times News "the goal of the wage survey was to determine the appropriate market wages for every position within the City of Saline. The onus of the study was not couched in terms of preventing gender pay discrimination with public employees. Rather, by identifying the appropriate market pay by position, and providing a framework for compensation changes moving forward, the process inherently removes any potential bias."

Saline made the decision to lead by example in the fight against the age old problem of gender based pay discrimination Monday evening. The City Council did it by adopting a plan to systemically compare and analyze who is paid for what in the city government, by adopting the standards recommended by the Sage Solutions Group, which they hired last year to identify and correct actual or potential discrepancies.

“Moving forward, the plan is to initially being the process by bringing all non-union admin staff on board with the new compensation ranges … ” City Manager Colleen O’Toole said on March 1. “Our hope is [that] moving forward, in establishing this process and implementing the formal performance evaluation system over the next 12 to 15 months, all members of staff can be a apart of this …. To introduce merit based compensation over time.”

The Council approved of the change unanimously. The move to address this potential problem was brought forward last year by then-Councilor Christen Mitchell and current Councilor Dillon.

“Just looking at the tension of the interactions at the office, I wasn’t convinced that we could be freed from the problem,” Mitchell said in an interview by phone.

That led to the city hiring Sage to analyze the cities compensation practices to look for any potential pay discrimination. Mitchell expressed frustration that the wage analysis report that the council voted to hire Sage to do was not enacted on upon delivery last June.

The report found that the city had potential pay discrepancies for certain female employees who were hired in specific time periods. Changes have been made to the report since then, according to City Manager Colleen O’Toole, on how compensation scales are calculated.

The city accepted the four major changes recommended by Sage, which did not respond to requests for comment. According to O’Toole, the city will change the job definitions to reflect what employees actually do, build an equitable compensation structure, establish a compa ratio, use the report’s information to guide the Council “in future decision making,” O’Toole said.

By an equitable compensation structure, which is designed to help the city and departmental supervisors work with a predictable framework in how to assess employees, and how they are to be compensated. According to a compensation analysis produced by Sage, that involves two main methodologies; benchmarking and establishing a pay grade system.

Benchmarking means comparing the pay in Saline with the average for surrounding cities of comparable size and setting their pay accordingly. The compensation rate will then by put on a seven point pay system grade, to determine the importance of the position to the city and establish a range of pay for the city to work from.

“Each individual position will have a performance evaluation form created for it. The direct supervisor for that position will perform a performance evaluation. That document will then be sent to our HR specialist, including our HR manager through Sage Solutions, and just checked to make sure there’s no issues between the supervisor and employee’s comments. Then finally, it will be signed off by me,” City Manager Colleen O’Toole told Council, last Monday.

Sage will be working closely with staff for a year to work out any kinks in the system and help the city apply the compa ratio system when employees earn any raise. The compa ratio is a way to rate employee performance and longevity. If a city employee remains and their pay is increased based on how well they are determined to be preforming.

Union employees will not be directly impacted by this decision, as it only effects salaried employees. But the decision made will have direct implications for future contract negotiations when the current contracts run out and have to be renegotiated.

“This approach represents a pretty significant paradigm shift in how this organization has operated historically,” Mayor Brian Marl said at the meeting. “Utilizing with a merit based system for additional compensation and reward will induce greater creativity and innovation, and overall will be good for the employees, and more importantly for the organization.”

Sage did not respond to requests for comment. 

Image Credit: City of Saline

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