The Sullivan administration is revising a proposal to delay the issuing of city workers' paychecks by a week, after complaints from unions that the move amounted to an effective pay cut.
The city wants to push back employees' paychecks so that workers are paid 12 days after the end of a period instead of five. That would lead to employees receiving just one week of pay for two weeks of work during a period in February and March, according to a memo distributed by Chief Fiscal Officer Lucinda Mahoney last week.
The city ultimately would make up the difference when employees were fired, or retired. But unions are objecting, characterizing the delay as a 2 percent pay cut for the coming year.
"It's just not right. I wouldn't ask you to work two weeks, and then say: 'I'm going to defer this payment to another time,'" said Mark McKee, the president of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association, which met to discuss the issue with its attorney Tuesday, along with the city plumbers union. "You're doing the time, but you're not actually getting paid."
McKee's union is the city's largest, with 525 members that include nurses, engineers, and other employees.
The city is now exploring different "transition plans" in response to the feedback, Mayor Dan Sullivan said in an interview on Wednesday. He would not give specifics beyond saying that "the goal would be to make sure that transition week is somehow compensated," though he suggested that one option could be to pay employees for a week of work in advance.
"We're working on the proposal," he said. "We'll be meeting with the unions and presenting them with something in the next week or so."
According to Mahoney's memo, the move is required to facilitate the city's launch of SAP -- new finance software that has suffered from delays and cost overruns, leading to union criticism.
The Sullivan administration maintains that the current five-day window after the end of a pay period is too short for employees and payroll staff to properly verify the accounting of salaries and benefits.
By comparison, the state pays most of its employees between 10 and 13 days after the end of a pay period, while the window for Wasilla city employees is five days.
"There's very little time to check for accuracy, and that everything's been properly recorded," Sullivan said.
The proposed change has frustrated the union leaders, who say that their members are being told to adapt to changes designed to fix a problem that the Sullivan administration created.
They say that as part of the software upgrade, the city cut payroll staff who could otherwise be helping to verify the data that the city is now asking for more time to review.
"If they hadn't gotten rid of the payroll people, they wouldn't have needed this," said Mike Stumbaugh, the president of the city firefighters union.
Sullivan responded that the elimination of the payroll positions had come in conjunction with a new electronic timekeeping system that has already improved accuracy. The new proposal, he added, "means we want to do it even better."
He acknowledged that the new system was "not perfect," especially for the fire department, where employees work 24-hour shifts.
Firefighters have complained about pay mistakes that take months to correct, like money missing from their checks, or some employees not earning leave.
"Are there a couple wrinkles? Sure. You're talking about an almost 3,000-person organization," Sullivan said. "But every large organization that has done this has seen improvements."
Reach Nathaniel Herz at firstname.lastname@example.org  or 257-4311.
By NATHANIEL HERZ