Minneapolis school study could lead to pay freezes, concessions

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 27, 2011 - 9:53 PM

Consultants looking at union pay scales within the Minneapolis school district find wide disparities.

The same study used to justify $270,000 in retroactive raises to Minneapolis Public Schools administrators could be used by the district to cut the compensation of its unionized staff.

District leaders say the report, which found that hundreds of employees are paid above-market rates, will be used in contract talks as the district seeks pay and benefit freezes and other concessions from union-represented staffers.

The study, compiled by Public Sector Personnel Consultants, found that 30 percent of union-represented employees, excluding teachers, are paid above a maximum proposed salary plan, costing the district more than $6 million per year.

"Unions just get more and more and more," said Matthew Weatherly, president of the Arizona-based company. "Jobs don't move that way in the market."

The same report found that 10 percent of employees are paid below the minimum, which could cost the district $512,000 if their pay were raised to scale.

Union representatives reacted with skepticism to the study, saying their own figures tell a different story.

In July, the district used the $165,000 study to justify retroactive raises to administrators while the district cut more than 100 jobs, including 52 teaching positions.

With projected budget deficits on the horizon, the district could be seeking concessions in contract negotiations. Ten of the district's 15 bargaining groups have expired contracts. The pacts govern pay for more than 2,000 staff members and 3,000 teachers.

The Public Sector Personnel Consultants' report will factor in negotiations, said Emily Hixson, senior employee relations associate for the Minneapolis schools.

"We want to be fiscally prudent," Hixson said. "Our employees ... understand the district's fiscal situation."

The report compares employee pay in Minneapolis with compensation in both public and private organizations to develop scales for minimum, maximum and mid-range pay.

The report found broad pay disparities, with some employees paid anywhere from 20 percent below market to 46 percent above.

A total of 290 employees were found to be below the minimum, with 895 above the proposed maximum. The remaining 1,700-plus employees were being paid within the proposed pay ranges.

Minneapolis Building and Construction Trade Council members are estimated to be paid anywhere from 13 to 46 percent above mid-range, Public Sector Personnel Consultants found.

"It's always good to do a benchmark," said Dan McConnell, business manager for the building and trades council. "[But] we don't want to see a race to the bottom."

The study found that pay for the clerical workers of Council 5 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had the largest costs above the maximum scale, at more than $1 million per year.

Union leaders question the district's findings.

"They want to get a certain result," said Carol Nieters, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 284, which represents district food workers. "If [the district doesn't] get the results they want, they'll use another consultant."

Public Sector Personnel Consultants also will establish a new salary structure that would allow the district to pay incoming workers less than current employees.

Reducing the number of job titles to 280 from 340 is also part of the deal. Union leaders argue that district leaders want to establish pay scales based on incomplete job descriptions that undervalue employee work.

The district will try to rein in compensation, but employees remain appreciated, school board chair Jill Davis said.

"Everybody is pretty aware of the budget situation," Davis said. "The resources are more scarce now."

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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