Journeymen linemen working for Wellington will have the opportunity to earn a $2 per hour merit-based pay increase starting in January 2016.
Village manager Steve Pyles made his proposal to the village utility committee and it resulted in a long, heated discussion.
Pyles’ said too many workers are leaving for higher-paying jobs offered in Oberlin, at the Lorain-Medina Rural Electric Cooperative, and at FirstEnergy. He told the committee the increase would help the village electric department keep employees and attract good new people.
“The reality of Oberlin is right now it’s $5 or $6 dollars more and they get there faster,” he said. “It may seem like that’s big money but when you talk about what you save, it’s bigger money. And when you talk about what we spend to train them, it’s equal money.”
It cost the village electric department roughly $18,000 for training and safety equipment for one employee over a three-year period.
Several council members agreed the merit-based increase was necessary but wanted to see raises in other departments as well.
“In five to nine years we’re going to have a problem but we’re going to have a problem across the board,” said councilman Hans Schneider, agreeing with Pyles’ assessment of the situation.
Part of what fueled the passionate debate was the discussion of a recent resignation in the electric department.
Kyle Spears’ last day in Wellington was Friday. He accepted a position in Oberlin and is the second employee to leave the village for Oberlin.
Without Spears, the department is now down to five employees, including electric superintendent Dave Bealer. The department typically has seven positions to fill.
Without enough employees in the department, it affects the village’s ability to do big projects such as installation of electric lines for the underpass project and new substation.
Bealer said losing Spears was a significant loss. His department has lost six employees and one superintendent since 2010, although some positions have been filled since then.
“The reason we’re coming to you now is not because we want to spend more of the village’s money but there’s been a huge turnover in the electric department and we’re not retaining guys,” he said. “We lost a guy at the end of last year that had 20 years in. We just lost a guy that had three years in, two classes away from finishing his journeymen’s (certification), a year away from receiving his journeymen’s card and we let that money walk out the door.”
According to Bealer, who has been with the electric department 30 years, he and two other employees are close to retirement and his other workers are either still on probation or lack the same level of experience.
“What I’m telling you is that right now your electric department is in bad shape,” he said. “It’s frustrating to me because I care. I take this personally.”
Bealer and water superintendent Mark Rosemark made the argument that the village’s utility departments save the village hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
“If you actually consider what it costs us an hour for $2 or $3 an hour you’re getting way more return on your money when you keep them,” Bealer said.
Then the question was raised whether $2 was a large enough increase to keep employees interested in staying and coming to the village.
Pyles said $3 would be better, but the committee agreed to have Pyles do more research before making any increases to any other department or further increasing the merit-based compensation for linemen.
The village is now preparing to advertise for the available lineman position. Pyles said it will take a few weeks to advertise and do the screening process before a new hire is made.
Kelsey Leyva can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @TWE_KelseyLeyva on Twitter.
Photos by Kelsey Leyva | Wellington Enterprise
Electric superintendent Dave Bealer explains his concerns about his department to the utility committee.