The ongoing theory is that the COVID epidemic that continues to sweep the country, isolated workers and their families. Close to a million people died in the U.S. Plants shut down, unemployment soared, supply chains slowed immensely and this gave workers, across the board, time to evaluate working conditions, salaries and their futures.
Of course, people looked to the government for answers and asserted some blame. In a somewhat quick, ill-thought out and ill-advised answer, labeled the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), money began to filter down to the states and local municipalities, all in an effort to relieve the monetary effects of COVID.
Originally designed specifically for COVID impacts on employment, health, and relief for working Americans, the plan was too often seen as ‘manna from heaven’ to municipalities.
ARPA and its original goal expanded as municipalities saw a way to expand myriad plans of financing everything and anything.
Last week Wayne County proposed using some of the ARPA money as a stipend for full and part time county workers. The idea was to give an average $1800 across the board, except for elected officials. This would curb employees from seeking new, better paying jobs.
The proposed Wayne County plan was specifically seen as a boost to the health care, and nursing home employees, plus other departments under pressure from traditional lower paying jobs.
The county cost for the stipend is estimated to be approximately $1.9 million dollars for the year and will be covered by increased sales tax revenues and county surplus. “It will not affect the current tax rates for 2022,” emphasized County Administrator Rick House.
House said the stipend is mainly for the lower paid county employees earning in the $16/hr. range across all county departments, but must cover all employees under regulations and current contracts the County must adhere to. The stipend is designed to entice and keep county workers. “This is a necessity, not a nicety,” he added.
Nearby larger Ontario County went steps ahead with their ARPA money, giving their employees $7000 the first year (2022), $5500 next year and $4000 for the third year.
In a statement to news partner 13WHAM, Ontario County Administrator Chris DeBolt said: “I can tell you that Ontario County recently settled contracts with its collective bargaining units that do include a schedule of annual retention and incentive payments. These are not bonuses, but are intended to recognize the hard work the County employees did throughout the pandemic and ensure the County stays competitive in an increasingly challenging labor market.”
Private businesses see the local municipality and changing employment moves as a challenge as signing bonuses and higher wages reach into the multi-thousands.
In truth, smaller counties have been fighting job flight to larger municipalities for decades.
Wayne County Sheriff Rob Milby does ‘exit’ interviews with employees leaving for larger departments. “It is all about the money,” he stated. “I can tell you first hand it’s for the money.” Deputies often use smaller agencies to get a ‘foot in’ to law enforcement and end up making $20,000 to $30,000 in lateral employment moves.
Wayne County Social Services Commissioner Ellen Wayne EdD, said she lost caseworkers to Ontario County this past week- two caseworkers in the last six weeks and a staff attorney to Monroe County over higher pay. Similar comments from other service departments asserted the continued loss to larger, higher paying municipalities.
Yes, wages have increased, but not as fast as current inflation numbers.
Talk about the current consumer prices up 8% and a possible future near recession finds workers are uneasy about finances. Housing and rental prices, gas, food are putting workers and families under pressure to find higher wages.