Panel denies wage grievance


Last week the Miles City Council’s Human Resource Committee denied a grievance filed by two employees two years ago over a wage study, which froze their wages.

“We will not treat these positions differently than we have the other positions in the study, so your request at this time is denied,” chairwoman Roxanna Brush said at Tuesday’s meeting.

A wage and benefit study was started in 2012 in order to study what police personnel were paid across the state. Soon the study was expanded to include all city positions. 

Human Resource Officer/Payroll Clerk Billie Burkhalter and Flood Plain Administrator Samantha Malenovsky had several job descriptions, making it difficult to compare with other positions across the state, therefore they felt the comparison was not accurate.

Burkhalter presented the case for her and Malenovsky and called the issue “complicated” and “convoluted.” She explained that 19 months had passed since the grievance was filed. “There have been a lot of meetings and there’s been mediation and there’s been a lot of confusion,” she said.

Burkhalter has been working for the city for 15 years and Malenovsky has worked for the city for five years.

The Local Government Center at Montana State University contracted a person to conduct the study. Betsy Webb of the center submitted a letter saying it was a challenge to compare job titles and duties in different cities since they are not entirely the same.

If there wasn’t a comparison available, “then you’d be arbitrarily frozen for the next six years,” Burkhalter said.

For the other city employees, if they made less than the state average, their wages were increased 2 percent each year up to six years and checked each year to see if they met the state average.

On March 11, 2013, the city offered a one-time 2 percent increase that would have begun July 2013 to Burkhalter and Malenovsky. The raises for the other employees began 12 months earlier.

The offer was declined because it didn’t begin when the other raises began and there was no guarantee that there would be further increases as was promised to the other employees, Burkhalter said.

“We do not believe our wage should be arbitrarily frozen by a survey that was, at best, incomplete,” she said. “...Neither of us are asking for special treatment. We just want what was given to our fellow employees that work for the city of Miles City.”

City Attorney Dan Rice said the city’s position is that the survey was done “in good faith” and that “no survey is perfect.”

Brush said there were problems with the study and no one has ever denied there were problems. 

Human Resource Committee members Sheena Martin and Ken Gardner said they don’t believe Malenovsky and Burkhalter’s wages should be frozen for six years.

Brush asked the committee if they felt that a 2 percent increase next fiscal year forward was a fair offer.

Mark Ahner said he doesn’t believe it is fair because they would be treating the grievance parties differently than others frozen under the plan.

The other committee members agreed.