Bend should try pay for performance


Published Mar 17, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Bend city officials added a dose of revolution to the city’s contract proposal for one of its unions. Rob DuValle, human resources director, told representatives for the City of Bend Employees Association, COBEA, that they should consider adding pay for performance to their new union contract.

The city should be applauded for bringing pay for performance to the table.

As a general rule, pay for performance is just not done in public sector contracts. Pay is based, instead, on step raises that usually automatically accrue based on years of employment and training. Merit doesn’t matter. It’s a system public sector unions favor, in part, because it’s an objective standard. It doesn’t allow for favoritism or for a boss to punish an employ simply because he doesn’t like the employee.

But there’s also concern that automatic pay raises don’t create incentives for increased performance. If a road striping crew working for the city stripes 800 miles of roads one year, they don’t have a monetary incentive to try to stripe 900 miles the next year.

The city declined to disclose the actual proposal to the media at the meeting with COBEA, but DuValle did describe it in broad terms during the negotiations. An employee who has reached the top of the pay scale could earn as much as 10 percent more for the following year if the employee does something exceptional.

He used the example of the striping crew hitting a target set by the city or an employee creating a new valued program. The city would retain discretion over who gets what award and how much. The awards would not be subject to the union’s grievance procedure. And the employee’s salary would return to its previous level at the end of a year unless the employee did something exceptional again.

David Snyder, COBEA’s attorney, said the union was going to need time to evaluate the proposal. He did, though, throw out initial concerns. One was favoritism.

DuValle replied that if the bonus system were not rewarding the appropriate behavior, the program would be a failure and should not continue. He said he wouldn’t expect the system to be 100 percent perfect, but neither is the current system.

It’s hard for us to endorse the city’s proposal without being able to see it in detail. The critical component will be how the decision will be made to determine who gets the bonuses. But the city and COBEA should try to work to make pay for performance work, instead of sticking only with automatic raises.

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Now that we just finished praising the city’s efforts, we’d like to point out something frustrating about that “open to the public” negotiating session.

The negotiations were officially open to the public. But that meeting was effectively half-closed.

It was difficult to follow what was going on. As we mentioned above, the proposals that the city and the union exchanged were not distributed to anyone else other than the two parties. The public could listen, but it couldn’t see the actual deals.

The two parties discussed a host of subjects Tuesday — overtime, a simplified pay schedule, health care and more. Without being able to see the full proposals, there’s no way to know just how sweet or sour those deals are.

DuValle told us after the meeting that he will make extra copies of proposals in the future for anyone else who attends a negotiating session. We could not reach Snyder by our deadline. We hope he will do the same.

If the two parties are going to say the negotiations are “open to the public,” they should mean it.