Jefferson Parish panel to consider raising minimum wage for parish employees _lowres

Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark D. Spears

After studying the matter at the request of a Parish Council member, Jefferson Parish’s Personnel Department for now does not favor raising the minimum wage for parish workers by $1.72 an hour.

The department said increasing the minimum wage for parish employees to $10.51 an hour would cost $442,000, “a substantial sum.”

The report on a study done at the request of the council also said such a measure would result in a disproportionately large pay bump for only a small number of workers, which “could lead to ... morale issues” for employees who don’t get similar raises.

Mark Spears — the councilman who last month won passage of a resolution asking for the department to study the issue — did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the review’s findings.

The parish’s Personnel Board will discuss the study at a meeting Tuesday.

Spears proposed his resolution after using a formula developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to determine that the minimum “living wage” for a single adult working full time and residing in Jefferson Parish should be $10.51 per hour. The lowest wage the parish’s classified employees earn now is $8.79 an hour.

The parish said 222 of its roughly 2,440 classified workers, or about 9 percent, make less than $10.51 an hour.

The formula Spears used accounts for local costs associated with food, housing, child care, health care, transportation and taxes.

In recommending against the higher minimum wage, the Personnel Department said some employees could receive bumps in pay of about 30 percent. On top of a 19.6 percent increase from $8.79 to $10.51 an hour, it said, new employees are eligible for a 5 percent raise at the end of their probationary periods, and merit-based pay increases could add another 5 percent.

Meanwhile, it said, employees above the $10.51 threshold wouldn’t have the same opportunity for such a sizable raise.

“It’s certainly fair to speculate that the employees who do not receive the pay increase would be very unhappy,” said the study, noting that the parish’s salary scale for classified workers is tied to performance.

In addition, it said, increasing parish employees’ minimum wage by $1.72 would push five classes of workers — ceramics pourers, child care workers, first-level clerks, custodians and security officers — over the maximum salary now set for those particular jobs. As the parish’s pay plan stands, employees can exceed the maximum salary for their position only through promotion, reassignment or successful completion of probation.

Other local governments in the region pay their workers minimum wages ranging from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, the study found, putting Jefferson Parish around the middle of the pack. “One can conclude that Jefferson Parish is competitive in comparison to minimum salaries,” the study said.

The Personnel Department urged the parish to perform a comprehensive study examining the pay plan for all classified employees before making any changes. The last time such a study was done was in 2006.

“This process allows for the parish to maintain a ... pay plan based on merit and equity while maintaining fairness and objectivity,” the study said.

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CORRECTION: A previous headline on this article incorrectly said Jefferson Parish’s administration would not recommend raising the minimum wage for parish employees. The Personnel Department is the body that does not recommend raising the minimum wage for parish employees, and it is independent from the parish administration. This headline has since been corrected.