Wayne County OKs $1K worker retention bonus

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne County officials Thursday approved a one-time, $1,000 stipend aimed at retaining county workers.

Wayne County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to pass the proposal, submitted by County Executive Warren Evans’ staff.

“Our employees have sacrificed much over the years, so I’m happy that this stipend is being given to them,” said Commissioner Alisha Bell, D-Detroit. “I’d rather they got a raise, but this is a good start and a good effort to give them something.”

Jim Martinez, a spokesman for Evans, said the administration appreciates the commission’s decision to pass the measure.

“The administration as well as the commission recognizes the sacrifices made by our public servants and recognizes we need to find ways to invest in our people,” he said. “Our people are key in delivering quality services and quality government.”

Under the measure, 2,312 full-time county employees are expected to receive the $1,000 stipend in their July 7 paychecks.

To qualify for the bonus, employees must have at least one year of seniority with the county as of July 1.

Employees can choose to either put the money into a health savings account or get it as a bonus, subject to 25 percent federal tax, plus the regular city and state taxes.

County officials said the measure will cost the county up to $2.4 million, depending on the number of employees who put the stipend in their health savings account or take it in their paycheck.

Elected officials do not qualify for the stipend, because their salaries and raises are set by county ordinances, Martinez said.

Neither do about 95 uniformed supervisors and command officers in the county sheriff’s office represented by AFSCME Local 3317.

Two years ago, the county was under a consent agreement with the state and Evans had been granted the powers of an emergency manager. That year, when the county was negotiating labor agreements with its unions, it reached deals with all but one — Local 3317.

Under the consent agreement, Evans was able to impose contract terms on the local. The union unsuccessfully challenged the move in court.

A few of the commissioners questioned the union’s exclusion.

“I think the exclusion of (Local) 3317 is mean-spirited,” said Commissioner Diane Webb, D-Livonia. “But I’ve felt that way about the whole thing (with 3317) from the beginning.”

Officials said the county isn’t singling out or retaliating against the local.

It can’t legally give the union the stipend because it never hammered out a collective bargaining agreement; the county imposed one after it and the union hit an impasse in negotiations, Martinez said. The county has bargaining agreements with its 11 other unions.

As a result, the county has no authority to pay the stipend to Local 3317 unless county employment terms under the consent agreement are amended or the union signs a Memorandum of Agreement, he said.

He said the county also has not ruled out the possibility of giving the union’s members a retention stipend.

“The CEO is committed to working to see if there’s a way to make this work (for Local 3317),” Martinez said. “The administration is willing to continue the conversation.”

Officials said the county has had a hard time keeping its workers since it cut wages and benefits in 2015 as part of a plan to return it to financial stability.

Two years ago, Wayne County grappled with a $52 million structural deficit, stemming from a $100 million drop in annual property tax revenues since 2008 and an underfunded pension system.

In April 2015, Evans launched a recovery plan that included pay and benefit cuts for workers, the end of health care coverage for future retirees and a restructured pension system.

Months later, he asked the state to declare a financial emergency in the county and intervene to help fix its finances, which led to the consent agreement.

Since then, Wayne County has been released from the consent agreement with the state and recorded two straight years of financial surpluses.

“We’ve changed the way we operate,” Martinez said. “We’ve made progress and there’s still a lot of work to do.

“But now that we’ve addressed our structural fiscal issues and are on fiscally stronger footing, we can afford this one-time stipend.”

A union official Thursday welcomed the bonus for the county’s workers.

“I want to thank the commission for passing the resolution giving the stipend to most of the unions,” Richard Johnson, staff representative of AFSCME Council 25, the coalition of unions representing the county’s workers, told commissioners at their meeting Thursday. “Unfortunately, I share disappointment that some people have been left out, particularly Local 3317.”