Council committee advances inflation wage change, paid parental leave

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An Indianapolis City-County Council committee on Tuesday unanimously voted to advance a plan allowing public employees’ wages to rise with inflation, as work continues on the city’s first public pay scale change in more than a decade.

A flashpoint in discussion? Stagnant pay for elected officials.

The proposal’s other changes are similarly aimed at boosting recruitment and retention, clarifying standards for goal-based incentive pay, adding a bonus pay program for “exceptional meritorious performance” and introducing paid parental leave.

“We know that the cost of living impacts our employees [and] it impacts our ability to attract and retain employees,” Renee Madison, human resources director for the city and county, told the Administration and Finance Committee. “We know this because they tell us when they leave that there are other opportunities—that they just have to be able to provide for their families.”

One provision in Proposal 287 would annually adjust pay for all non-union employees with changes in the Midwest Region Consumer Price Index. Pay bumps would be capped at 3% and could be skipped or cut if projected city-county revenue drops or in other extenuating circumstances.

The city’s public employee salary scale hasn’t seen an overhaul since 2009, said Controller Ken Clark. He and Madison told councilors that low and stagnant pay is hurting competitiveness with other municipal governments offering higher salaries.

“We do need to stay with the times … so that they can make a living wage,” Madison said. “We’ve got about one-third of our employees that do not hit that living wage standard.”

That cutoff is an $18 hourly wage, or $37,440 annual salary, outlined in EmployIndy’s Living Wage Initiative, Madison clarified later in an email.

“We’re really trying our best to be competitive in a market that is now a worker’s economy,” Clark said. “… Between the pay scales I’ve submitted with the budget ordinance and the cost-of-living adjustments that will happen each year under the controller’s discretion, you now have an actual way where [non-union employees] don’t make less money each year in city-county government.”

City-county employees with three, six or 12 months under their belts would earn two, four or six weeks of paid time off, respectively, for newborns and newly adopted children. The program would apply to parents of any gender who work part-time or full-time.

The move would put the city ahead of state for the state for parent-leave pay. In January 2018, Indiana became the eighth state government to provide paid parental leave, but part-time employees only get up to 3.1 days (75 hours) off, and full-time workers max out at 6.25 days (150 hours).

Before voting, committee members asked to clarify that the changes wouldn’t benefit local elected officials. The council’s legal counsel confirmed they don’t. But the move re-opened another can of worms: Indy’s part-time legislators haven’t gotten a bump in their $11,400 base pay in three decades or more, and the last uptick in per-meeting pay came in 2002.

“We are being paid 1974 wages,” said Democrat La Keisha Jackson. “We’re doing two jobs … We’re making $5.25 an hour when you break it down. That’s an insult for anybody!”

The most recent push to increase councilor pay was back in 2019, but Council President Vop Osili pulled it from the agenda just before a full council meeting. The legislation had garnered criticism and repeated veto threats from Mayor Joe Hogsett after its last-minute introduction.

Clark told councilors that that the cost-of-living adjustment could be covered by the city’s typical annual $11 million to $13 million budget underspend, and that the proposal’s other provisions would hit beginning with the 2023 budget. Clark’s office is in the middle of a compensation study, which involves a rewrite of all city-county job descriptions and reassignment on the recently upgraded pay scale.

The committee advanced the proposal to the full Democrat-majority council, which meets next on Sept. 13.

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