Pay plan's stormy reception

John Giddings says that when it comes to city politics, he normally keeps his cool. But Mayor Dennis Archer’s recent pay-raise plan for non-union city employees rubbed the Detroit ombudsman the wrong way.

"Let’s just say we have had differences of opinion over several issues and I have chosen to remain low-key," says Giddings. "This one just really got my goat."

Step Code G, which the administration withdrew after heated debate demonstrated lack of City Council support, would have allowed supervisors to evaluate each of the 1,800 non-union city employees and recommend a performance-based raise.

The city’s human resource director would have the final say to grant raises. Currently, non-union city employees receive an automatic raise unless a supervisor determines that they should not receive one due to poor work performance. Employees can appeal supervisor decisions.

Giddings has been one of the harshest – and most vocal – critics of Archer’s pay-raise plan, taking the floor during a recent public hearing to call it the iceberg that sank the Titanic. "The most dangerous part is what is not seen," he says of the proposal. In a letter to the City Council, Giddings warns that the proposal gives the Human Resource director final authority to approve pay increases instead of City Council.

He also wrote that Step Code G promotes favoritism because it gives "… the supervisor the dangerous authority to withhold pay increases unless the employee somehow pleases the supervisor." Giddings says Step Code G allows supervisors to adjust employee pay to any rate, meaning wage decreases would be possible. "The way it is written, there is nothing to prevent salary decreases because, hell, if you adjust them up you can adjust them down," says Giddings.

Archer press secretary Greg Bowens disputes that claim, saying "Step Code G would not take anything from anyone." He says the plan merely rewards employees for outstanding performance. "Certainly, the way we see it is that it is not fair to deny people the opportunity to get a raise who do good work," says Bowens.

He also says the plan would not usurp City Council’s authority. "We believe that council never had authority to approve someone’s pay increase based on performance," says Bowens. He likens the proposal to the annual cash bonus accepted by the American Federation for State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) during recent contract negotiations with the city.

But AFSCME staff specialist Bill Harper, who helped negotiate the contract, says the cash bonuses are different. According to Harper, during recent contract talks the city proposed a pay plan essentially the same as Step Code G; the union rejected it because it permits supervisors to determine employee raises. The union also spoke out against Step Code G when it was before City Council last week.

The union fears that Archer ultimately plans to impose it on all city workers including 5,000 AFSCME members, says Harper. "We didn’t want that program period," he says.

City Council member Nicholas Hood says he likes the idea of performance-based raises, but the mayor’s plan is flawed. "One question is, can the city budget accommodate Step Code G?" asks Hood.

He says the city admitted that there is not enough money to cover employee pay raises if each one were to receive the maximum increase in their pay scale. "So it becomes elusive in that it is intended to be an incentive to get employees to work hard, but no matter how hard they work, they won’t get the highest raise possible because the city cannot afford it," says Hood.

Regardless of this criticism, the issue is not going to go away. Bowens says the administration intends to revise the plan and put it before council again. "We are not going to give up on government reform," says Bowens. "We are not going to give up on rewarding people for their work."

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