BUCKHANNON – If big-box stores like Walmart can pay their employees an hourly wage of $10, the City of Buckhannon should be able to, too.
That’s the thinking behind Mayor David McCauley’s proposal to set a base pay rate of $10 an hour for all full-time city employees, which he advocated for at Thursday’s city council meeting.
“We still have three employees with the City of Buckhannon who are making under $10 an hour,” McCauley told council. “My proposal is that tonight we adopt a minimum wage for full-time employees of $10 per hour.”
Councilman David Thomas made a motion to approve the proposal, which was seconded by Mary Albaugh.
However, before council voted on the idea, councilman Robbie Skinner and councilman CJ Rylands said they had a few questions.
Skinner said he wanted to ensure city employees’ pay raises and rates would still be evaluated via a rubric system that considers skill level, education, dedication, training and more.
“I just want to clarify that this doesn’t change that – this just establishes that nobody can go under $10 an hour?” Skinner asked.
McCauley said yes, adding the $10 per hour minimum he was proposing would be applicable to only full-time employees.
Rylands suggested simply giving the three employees who are making under $10 an hour a pay bump.
“If there’s three employees that are making under $10 an hour, why not just give them a raise and have the opportunity to start someone else – an entry-level person – out at whatever the state or federal mandated minimum wage is without creating a base minimum for the city?” Rylands asked. “Is the next step to say, ‘Well, since the city’s doing it, all businesses should be paying $10 an hour’?”
McCauley replied, “We’re not saying that. Walmart’s doing it.”
While the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour according to the U.S. Department of Labor, West Virginia’s minimum wage is set by state law is $8.75.
Rylands asked McCauley about his intention in establishing a minimum pay rate.
“We’re creating a base pay scale for everyone that’s employed at the City of Buckhannon, which would only impact three people,” he said. “Is the intention to say, ‘We are more generous?’ What’s the intention?”
The mayor replied, “I think we owe it to the people that work for us to establish a higher threshold than a minimum wage.” He said many other companies in the private sector are setting base pay per hour at a wage even higher than $10.
Rylands said he wasn’t implying the three city employees don’t deserve to be compensated at least $10 per hour.
“I don’t want to say that they don’t deserve it, but why haven’t they gotten it up to this point?” he asked. “What’s in place to restrict them from rising up within their current system?”
McCauley said city employees haven’t received a cost-of-living increase pay raise since October 2016, and employees won’t realize the benefits of any merit-based pay raises until July 1, 2019.
“We’re talking about giving three employees a $1 or a 50-cent bump … that’s what this is about,” he said.
Skinner said he was worried about the move setting a potentially problematic precedent.
“My only concern is, does this set a precedent … as in, OK, so it’s $10 an hour this year, does it become $15 an hour in two years, does it become $18 an hour in three years?” he wanted to know. “I hear where CJ’s coming from because three employees are under $10 an hour. Evidently, there’s something there that’s prohibiting them from [moving up the pay scale].”
McCauley said the three employees are all relatively new hires.
Skinner suggested tabling the matter until the Nov. 15 meeting to allow additional time for research and consideration.
Thomas amended his original motion to table the proposal until then, and Skinner seconded the amended motion.
“I just think it would be advantageous for the council to do some more research and look at more of the numbers aspect as well as talk to maybe a few of the supervisors and just get some feedback before we just jump into this,” Skinner said.
McCauley replied that his recommendation was based on numerous conversations with department supervisors.
Skinner said he hadn’t had the chance to talk with the same individuals.
“Well, you may have talked to them, but I haven’t, and I’d like to,” he told McCauley.
The motion to table passed unanimously.