A wage debate

Do Minneapolis librarians really earn more than their Hennepin County counterparts?

A plan to merge the Minneapolis and Hennepin County library systems was moving rapidly through a lengthy political approval process until a rough analysis showed that some city library employees earn more than county workers in similar jobs.

As union leaders and politicians quickly set to work figuring out how the potential pay differences should be resolved, Minneapolis Public Library (MPL) officials quietly pointed out that the wage comparison should be read with a skeptical eye. The analysis isnt yet complete, relies on several variables and doesnt take into account employee benefits. Yet its findings were highly publicized and created a public perception that MPL employees generally earn more than their counterparts at the county, MPL Director Kit Hadley said.

This has been really hard for staff at the library to take. They feel vilified, Hadley told Minneapolis Public Library Board members at a meeting earlier this month.

The analysis, which Minneapolis and Hennepin County library human resources personnel worked on together, compares a number of individual jobs at MPL with positions within the Hennepin County Library (HCL) to which they appear similar. The duties of each position have not been compared and matched, which would need to be done if the Minnesota Legislature approves enabling legislation for the merger. Actually looking at the job descriptions might reveal that some MPL positions match up to HCL positions that pay differently, Hadley said.

Hennepin County Library Director Amy Ryan said the comparison is essentially a preliminary review to get discussions going about what would need to be worked out in a merger. While a considerable amount of time and effort was put into the comparison, she too said a more thorough analysis would need to be completed if the consolidation of the two library systems moves forward.

Assuming the positions at MPL and HCL have been correctly matched, the analysis provides a side-by-side comparison of each job in two ways: looking at the hourly rate comparison and looking at the annual salary comparison. The results differ for several reasons, depending on which method is used.

One is because full-time at HCL is considered 40 hours per week for all employees, Ryan said. But some MPL unions have negotiated that full-time employees work 37.5 hours a week, which means even at a higher hourly wage they might earn a comparable annual salary to an HCL employee.

Another is that employees in both the city and county library systems are rewarded with additional pay if they have been long-term employees the difference is that HCL employees receive that bonus pay in a lump sum at the end of the year, while MPL employees receive it as a part of their regular paycheck. So while the hourly rate of some MPL employees may seem higher at first glance, if the annual salaries of employees at both systems are adjusted to account for the lump sum HCL employees receive at the end of the year, there are fewer MPL employees who make more than HCL employees.

The comparison doesnt take into account a wide range of other compensation factors, such as early retirement options or which system provides a better benefits package. Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin (4th District), who supports the consolidation and has been working to address concerns about some of the details, acknowledged that the salary comparison has received a lot of attention, while the benefit package is a significant component. The county provides benefits that in some cases are superior to those offered by MPL, McLaughlin said.

No one has done enough analysis to conclude that the overall economic package is richer at MPL than HCL, Hadley said.

If the current analysis is used, 55 MPL employees or 20 percent of the city library systems 290 workers would earn more based on an hourly rate than the HCL counterparts they have been deemed comparable to. If an annual wage comparison is used, that number drops to 27 MPL employees or 10 percent of the city library systems workers. That means 8090 percent of the citys library workers do not earn more than their county counterparts, according to preliminary analysis, even in the absence of discussion about benefits.

The analysis figures that the cost to align wages in the two systems would take until 2015. The difference in hourly wages would reach a total of just over $315,000. Or if the analysis figures the difference in earnings using annual salaries, the total would reach slightly less than $200,000. The Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution pledging that MPL employees will not suffer a loss of wages in the merger, a move that essentially offers to fill in potential compensation gaps.

What the discussion between union leaders and politicians at the Capitol focused on is how a financial assurance like that would be put into action, McLaughlin said.

Were trying to find mechanisms to ensure the employees are kept whole economically. Its about wage differential, pensions, everything, McLaughlin said, adding in a May 9 interview that progress was being made and he felt better about the possibility of a consolidation than he had in weeks.

As of May 10, legislation enabling the merger had received the approval of some committees at the Capitol but was still working its way through others. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn May 21, and city officials have said a vote to on the merger could come as late as the last day of the session.

Yet while the debate about the merger details ensued at the Capitol, Library Board President Anita Duckor acknowledged that the scrutiny placed on the wages of MPL employees and the uncertainty of what will happen to their jobs with or without a merger has created a difficult work

environment.

In the private sector, a lot of times at this point we see people bailing, Duckor said.

For a group of people who have devoted their careers to ensuring others have free access to information, Minneapolis Public Library employees have been conspicuously silent about their thoughts on a plan to merge the Minneapolis and Hennepin County library systems. Some library employees said they fear repercussions by management for speaking out, while others are worried that what they say could have impact the delicate merger discussions at the Capitol.

One library aide, who asked that his name not be used, said he resents how library employees have been portrayed as a roadblock to a merger.

We are not snags, he said.

The library aide, a member of AFSCME Local 99, said he worries that to close any gaps in wages, Hennepin County will give its employees a pay raise and freeze the wages of Minneapolis library employees. If that happens, he said his wage will be lower under a merger. Yet if the merger doesnt go through, he knows City Council members and Library Board trustees have warned that some of the citys library workers will likely lose their jobs as hours are slashed and more libraries closed.

We lose either way we go, he said.

One librarian, who also asked that her name not be printed, said shes come to the conclusion that a merger is the best option for library employees, but she knows there will be downsides to that solution. She emphasized that discussions about pay differences are a distraction from what the merger should really be aiming to accomplish, which is improved library service.

This is not about unions, hourly wages, or whether you live in the city or the county, the librarian said. Its about ensuring better library service for everyone.