WG&L workers: New pay study unfairly applied

ALBANY -- High-ranking officials with Albany's Water, Gas & Light Commission said Friday complaints by WG&L workers about a recently implemented salary table were unfounded.

Water, Gas & Light Commission General Manager Lemuel Edwards said Friday a pay structure policy approved by Judge Wilbur Owens in 1978 is "still strong and still working" for the utilities provider.

"There is no impropriety with the salary structure at WG&L," Edwards said. "What we have in place is a new set of pay tables that were the result of an (Albany) City Commission-mandated study."

WG&L workers had complained in e-mails to The Herald that implementation of the salary schedule, recommended by the Atlanta-based Archer Group, was "absolutely screwed up." The complaining workers said they'd tried to meet with the utilities' human resources director but had not been satisfied with answers provided.

"The last salary study for the authority was completed in 1997," WG&L Director of Safety Loss and Human Resources Shane Tucker said. "Since we're part of the city's classification, (city HR personnel) told us that they'd contracted with the Archer Group to do a new study. And they said, 'Oh, by the way, if you want to be involved with the study, you have to pay for it yourself.'

"It's something that we needed to do, though, and Mr. Edwards approved the study. Once we embarked upon it, each department division was asked to fill out a questionaire about its positions. Once the division finished its questionaire, it went to the supervisor, who signed off on it and sent it to the director."

Archer officials took the information provided and developed a grade step system into which each employee's job classification was placed. The pay table reduced the number of steps from 50 to 30, which led to much of the confusion among employees.

"What we tried to do is eliminate 'bunching' at the entry level," Tucker said. "We tried to move some of the personnel at the entry level up a step so that they would not be making less than new hires that came in under the new plan.

"Our goal is to move to the second phase of the plan, which takes us toward a performance-based salary structure. But because of the economy, that phase -- which also takes into consideration the time a person has been at a position -- is on hold right now. We've gotten no indication of when it might be implemented."

Tucker drew fire from complaining WG&L employees because two of his sons work for the utilities provider, and the workers said each had gotten preferential treatment.

"Our HR/Safety Loss director has a son in the Water Department that has been promoted to Equipment Operator recently and, coincidentally, his job classification was the one in the department that was elevated the highest after this most recent salary survey," the workers wrote in their e-mail. "He was also given a raise for acquiring his Commercial Driver's License. He and another employee got a step increase for doing this. Two weeks later when another employee got his CDL, he was told that those raises would no longer be given out.

"His son in the Maintenance Department was also the recipient of a substantial pay raise after this salary survey. Nepotism is alive and well here."

Both Tucker and Edwards denied any preferential treatment for Tucker's sons.

"Most of these changes really only amount to around 7 or 8 cents an hour," Edwards said. "And it's ridiculous to suggest that Shane's sons were given preferential treatment. Both of them are highly qualified. And Shane had nothing to do with their eveluations or their salaries."

Tucker echoed Edwards' assessment.

"My son who is a heavy equipment operator is one of a group of eight whose salaries all were bumped up a bit under the new schedule," he said. "My other son is a mechanic who was working here before I was. He has been selected for a grade increase by his supervisor; I had nothing to do with that."

Edwards said HR personnel had scheduled meetings with employees to try and answer all of their questions.

City Manager Alfred Lott was on vacation Friday and could not be reached for comment.