West Allis' budget concerns plow back DPW double-time pay

City opts for time-and-a-half compensation instead

Dec. 21, 2012

West Allis - With Mayor Dan Devine breaking a tie vote, the Common Council decided to pay Department of Pubic Works employees time-and-a-half, rather than continuing to pay double time, for work performed after 12 hours in one shift.

The decision will mainly impact will workers who drive snowplows, which sometimes involves exceptionally long days due to snow-packing winter storms.

"It's not that we don't appreciate the work that's being done," Devine said after the meeting. "But it's hard to justify doing something that's done so rarely in other communities."

He was referring to a survey of 64 Wisconsin communities that found only Madison and South Milwaukee provide double time after 12 hours for DPW employees. The survey was conducted by the city's Human Resources Department.

Tiring realities

That fact only added concerns about how to manage an increasingly difficult city budget.

"These are extremely tight fiscal times," Devine said.

Exceptionally long days do have a fiscal impact. For instance, if a plow driver works 16 hours, 12 are now at the regular pay and the remaining four hours equals another eight hours pay. With time-and-a-half compensation, the extra pay would dip to six hours.

The city would save an estimated maximum $28,000 by going to a time-and-half rate.

But that fiscally oriented mind-set doesn't sit well with weary snowplow drivers accustomed to being compensated for long, hard days.

"This is going to kill morale," said Joe Narloch, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 80.

West Allis has paid DPW workers double time after 12 hours in all 32 years Narloch has been with the city DPW. Though the union didn't recertify this year, former members remained organized to continue to have a voice, even though the union no longer negotiates for them, he said.

Because plow drivers are out battling storms for many hours, they have to sleep the next day and miss a day of work, Narlock said. Giving them double time makes up for the loss of a day's pay, he explained.

Drivers who are tired might just go home after 12 hours so they don't lose out on the next day's pay, he said.

Maintaining an incentive?

Devine and some aldermen didn't think that will happen.

"I think time-and-a-half is still good money," the mayor said.

Alderman Michael May agreed, calling the pay rate "a good incentive" for workers.

"And it's the public and private standard, even with DPW," May added.

Going to time and a half from the current double time was recommended by a city transition team that recommended how to handle the sweeping labor relations changes brought on by the state's Act 10.

But the Administration and Finance Committee didn't agree with the transition team's assessment. In a 3-2 vote, the committee recommended keeping the pay at double time.

Among the supporters for double-time pay was Alderman Thomas Lajsic, who said, "This compensates (DPW workers) for a day's pay and getting the job done."

These instances don't happen that often, Lajsic said - usually only in major snowstorms and flooding.

In fact, the committee also wanted to broaden the double-time pay rate to all city employees, not just DPW crews, working longer than 12 hours.

But at last week's Common Council meeting, May mounted an effort to roll back the committee's changes and stay with the transition team's time-and-a-half recommendation, which he called wise and well thought-out.

The council tied on that proposal with May and aldermen Michael Czaplewski, Daniel Roadt, Vincent Vitale and Marty Weigel voting in favor of time and a half instead of double time. Those against were Lajsic and aldermen Gary Barczak, Cathleen Probst, Rosalie Reinke and James Sengstock.

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