Sharyl Hofer addresses Los Alamos County Council members Tuesday during their regular meeting. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Several Los Alamos Fire Department personnel reacted Wednesday to a statement made Tuesday evening by their colleague Sharyl Hofer to the Los Alamos County Council under the public comment item on their agenda Tuesday evening.
Hofer, LAFD’s Safeguards and Security/Labor Relations Manager and a 14-year County employee, said she was speaking as a citizen and “someone who has over 35 years of experience in the human resources/labor relations area”. She said she wished to address the lack of pay increases for the current fiscal year and the possibility of no increases for FY2019.
“While I appreciate the concern about not collecting GRT in the future, the County is currently collecting this tax. If we truly don’t have the money, then increases should not be granted to any employees,” Hofer said. “With union agreements, there are provisions that allow the employer to not honor the increases agreed upon if they can prove that there is no money. However, since that was not done and increases were honored, the message being sent is that there is money if you are in the union. I don’t believe that is the message you intended to send.”
She said currently about a third of the employees are covered by union agreements and saw increases of up to 3 percent this fiscal year and are expecting up to 4 percent next fiscal year.
“This is a hard pill to swallow for those non-union employees – and quite frankly, an open invitation to union organization. As a manager myself, that is not the message that I want to send.” Hofer said. “My understanding is that there are union employees across the County that are hesitant to move from the union environment to the management environment as there is little incentive when there are lesser amounts or no pay raises while taking on more responsibility.”
She said a good example is that at LAFD, next year, five of the seven battalion chiefs will be paid less than they would have been paid if they had not promoted. She said since she is at the top of her pay scale and close to retirement, any increases approved do not affect her.
“However, I am here as an employee advocate. Some of our employees are nearing retirement and no increases for a year or two can dramatically affect their retirement earnings. Others are newer employees and not being awarded steps for their performance can impact them throughout their career. Compound the loss of two to six steps over a 30-year career and that has a large impact on the high performers,” Hofer said.
She said additionally, based on the current policy, when hiring new personnel, there is a high possibility that someone coming in externally with the same experience and education as a current employee, could be placed at a higher step in the compensation plan.
“Even in the days of economic struggle, the County did not freeze salaries. And now, being faced with the possibility of two years at the same rate, this is very discouraging and demotivating to employees. Until this past year, I have not seen the number of County personnel seeking employment at the Lab. We have more employees, from custodians all the way up to upper management, leaving for the Lab this year than I have ever seen,” Hofer said. “We have an exceptional pool of employees and they are dedicated, work hard and are focused on our community. We lose a great deal of knowledge and experience if they leave for the Lab or early retirement.”
She said she understands the quandary the County believes itself to be in due to the uncertainty with GRT. She asked the Council to consider providing funds to support the County Compensation Policy for the remaining quarter of FY 2018.
“Such action would help alleviate the concerns that I addressed plus I’m sure it would be appreciated by the employees,” she said.
Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess and LAFD Chief Troy Hughes declined to comment on Hofer’s presentation.
LAFD personnel, both union and non-union, told the Los Alamos Reporter Wednesday that they wanted to accompany Hofer to the Council meeting but that she had discouraged them from attending. Deputy Chief Steve Dawald sat with Hofer in the audience and left after she addressed the Council.
One non-union employees said the County salary plan is good if the Council puts the money behind it.
“The plan allows for movement through the steps based on performance as well as an increase to the structure for Cost of Living. By not providing funding for both, employees continue to fall behind,” he said. “We appreciate the salary that we are paid along with the benefits, but Los Alamos is a costly place to live and we need to keep up with that to provide for our families.”
Other employees said they are close to retirement and freeing their salaries and not allowing them to move up steps based on their performance is going to affect their retirement payments.
Newer employees are also affected. One employee sad she received a “far exceeds” rating on her last annual appraisal.
“According to policy, I should have moved up three steps which is about 3 percent. With the freeze, I will not get that this year and will continue my career being three steps behind. This also can affect how a promotional salary would be calculated in the event that I promote to a higher level job,” she said.
Union employees also feel the effects of the non-union pay freeze.
“Union people are also affected when union employees can’t accept a job in management because the pay is not that much more and in a few years the union employees will be making more than their non-union supervisor,” one employee said. “We have two captains who qualified for battalion chief positions but they were offered less than they are making now so they declined to promote. So when the two captains don’t move up, two driver-engineers don’t get to move up and two firefighters don’t get to promote to driver-engineer.”