YMC Board debates labor/wage market study

GRANITE FALLS – A lengthy discussion regarding the use of a recent labor/wage market study ensued during the Yellow Medicine County Board meeting Tuesday.

“It’s done,” Board Chair Ron Antony said of the market study ordered from Springsted, Inc. of St. Paul. “Do we want to implement some of it or is there no appetite of this board to go forward and make adjustments? We need to know now and not waste our time. In my opinion, we went through the expense of having it done why would we not at least look at it?”

“It may be a piece for the future to help retain employees,” Commissioner John Berends said. “We need to figure out how to pay for it. Two commissioners and Ashley (Soine, Human Resources) should be on (a committee) and come back and say what it looks like and propose ideas on how to use it. I think sending it to committee is good.”

“A committee is good,” Commissioner Gary Johnson said, “But I think we should send it to Labor Management. I don’t want to make this decision.”

“They wouldn’t know how to finance it,” Berends said.

“But we do have two commissioners (on Labor Management),” Johnson said. “The last committee brought back three figures, low, medium and high. We used to be in the middle. Why aren’t we still there? How can you get and $8,000 spread (between wage levels)?”

“We’re just not keeping up,” Antony said. “And, we can’t control our neighbors (pay scales). A committee can dig down into the information to find out why (we’re not competitive) and come up with ways to implement changes. You can’t use Labor Management because it’s full of employees. We can’t let the employees drive the boat. It needs to be us that drives the boat and decides how to implement changes.

“Management has to decide how to implement the study the information,” Antony said. “I’m not saying we wouldn’t have any employees on board, but Labor Management is mostly employees. What did this board think was going to happen when we authorized this market study?”

“What caused the problem?” Johnson said, which was what he wanted to learn. “Didn’t we think a cure would come in with the study results? I thought a proposal for a cure was coming out of the market study.”

YMC Administrator Peg Heglund said that was also offered along with the study results.

“(Julie Urell of Springsted) answered our questions about ‘Do we have a problem?'” Heglund said, “and, ‘How big a problem?’ She also gave suggestions about what to do about it.”

“We spent $12,000 on this market study, and now you want to pull back and not look at it?” Antony asked Johnson.

“Now you’re putting words in my mouth,” Johnson said. “I knew we had a problem. I wanted to know what the problem was, where the problem is and how to fix it. Could we fix it with benefits?”

“If we don’t do something about the gaps, they’re just going to keep getting bigger every year,” Commissioner Glen Kack said.

“We have to make sure we’re not continuing to lose employees,” Antony said.

Even Sheriff Bill Flaten said his department was experiencing a high turnover of 9-1-1 operators because of the discrepancy in wages.

“They can get the $15 per hour flipping burgers,” Flaten said.

“We’re almost 17 percent below average at starting level,” Heglund said. “We haven’t kept up with market or with job descriptions.”

Even the cost of living raises at 2.5 percent are not covering the 9 percent increase in health insurance deductions, she said.

Berends attributed that to the fact that the economy and the job market are in a lot different positions since the job descriptions were last worked on.

“Things change, and we need to change with it,” Berends said. “The statement that there’s only one way to address this is not true. There are other ways. That’s why I think we should go to committee to look at the ways.”

“Insurance is where it’s getting (messed) up,” Commissioner Greg Renneke said. “The grower isn’t getting any more for his produce. It’s lopsided.”

“Is there any way we can do anything to move this forward to look at the market survey?” Antony asked. “We’re experiencing a lot of turnover. We have to pay for this, guys, and that’s the big discussion. Maybe do it in stages, like if you’re more than 8 percent away from average, focus on that. Do it in stages.”

Working on it in stages would help with the cost of implementation, he said.

“You’re always saying our employees are our best asset, but they are younger and not afraid to move,” Family Services Director Rae Ann Keeler-Aus said.

Today’s employees were young and mobile, the board members agreed.

“Some even leave without another job lined up,” Soine said.

At that point, Heglund proposed a training course for the board on millennials.

Antony called for volunteers to serve on the market study committee and received positive responses from himself, Johnson, Flaten, Soine and Keeler-Aus.

They will be joined by Finance Manager Lacey Rigge and two from Labor Management.