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Officials: New Fairfax Employee Pay Plan Needs More Work

Unions, some supervisors say proposed changes to how Fairfax County pays its employees — namely, an odd-even pay increase system — need more discussion.

Proposed changes to Fairfax County employee compensation were met with criticism and questions from county officials and union representatives Tuesday.

County Executive Ed Long first presented a new employee compensation structure to supervisors in December, which would disband the current system — in which employees are eligibile for pay increases every year — and replace it with an odd-even schedule for cost of living and merit raises.

But union reps urged supervisors Tuesday not to pass the plan as part of the FY2014 budget process, saying such drastic changes required more careful debate.

Many supervisors agreed, saying they didn't want to rush the matter.

“I don’t believe we should be doing this during the budget schedule,” Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) said.

“I think it’s important to get it right first,” added Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill).

In Long’s proposed plan, which would kick in after FY 2014, county employees would get a cost of living increase (estimated to be about 2 percent) in odd-numbered years and be eligible for regular and performance-based pay bumps in even-numbered years.

Public safety employees would still receive increases based on longevity annually, but public safety merit increases would be paid in even-numbered years.

Fairfax County employees are currently eligible for pay increases every year. After a three-year pay freeze due to the recession, county workers received a pay increase during the Fiscal Year 2013 budget process, which cost the county about $50 million.

But with looming budget shortfalls over the next two years, Long said it’s unlikely employees will receive pay increases in FY2014. And the new system could save the county as much as $30 million a year.

The county's school board, whose budget largely hinges on an annual transfer from the board of supervisors, is hoping to give its employees a 1 percent market adjustment next year. 

Long's plan failed to get support from union representatives for county and public safety employees Tuesday during a Board of Supervisors Personnel Committee meeting. 

“The unions in the county have worked with the board through good times and bad,” said Paula Woodrum, president of the Fairfax County Government Employees Union. But she said she couldn’t support the current compensation adjustments.

“A compensation framework is built for a career, not for a 3 to 5 year period,” she said.

Randy Creller, chairman of the county’s Employee Advisory Council, echoed Woodrum’s sentiments.

“Pay plans affect employees’ entire careers,” Creller said. “You’re halving the current pay plan that people signed up for … it just doesn’t work.”

Long understood the matter needed more discussion, and said envisioned the changes being closer to a five-year plan than an ultimate fix.

Long said Tuesday he thinks "it’s important we start looking at some things on a multi-year basis, and compensation is one of them."

“My intent was not that this would be a permanent thing,” he added.

The board and employee unions found common ground with other parts of Long's plan, Chairman Sharon Bulova noted, such as its emphasis on employee development.

A focus on internal promotions and “hiring from within” would allow high performing workers to achieve management positions and leadership roles, the plan says.

“Employee groups have agreed on other aspects,” Bulova said. “We’re putting our emotions aside and getting this work done.”

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