JEA Workers to Get $1.9M in Bonus Pay; That S Because They Reached Goals in Cost-Cutting, Customer Satisfaction

By Monroe, Nate | The Florida Times Union, November 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

JEA Workers to Get $1.9M in Bonus Pay; That S Because They Reached Goals in Cost-Cutting, Customer Satisfaction


Monroe, Nate, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Nate Monroe

It's been a good year for JEA employees.

Most of the taxpayer-owned utility's 1,950 workers will take home $1,000 bonus checks in mid-November for reaching consumer-satisfaction and cost-cutting goals that JEA says resulted in more than $31 million in savings last fiscal year.

This is the second consecutive year JEA has written bonus checks through its revived pay-for-performance program, which the utility halted in 2007 amid the economic downturn and belt-tightening measures. Last year, citing pressure to remain competitive with privately run utilities, the agency cut its employees $1,250 bonus checks at a cost of about $2.4 million for reaching similar goals.

The $1.9 million cost of financing the $1,000 bonus checks in November will come from the $31 million pot of savings. About 100 employees who have worked for less than six months with JEA or that have disciplinary issues are not eligible for the payouts, JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said.

In addition, under a 2014 performance-pay plan the JEA board approved this month, workers next year could be in line to receive bonuses ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 if the utility meets its most ambitious goals.

And for some JEA workers, there was more: 138 members of JEA's management team received either pay increases or promotions that results in wage hikes throughout the 2012-13 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

Those pay jumps ranged from more than $80,000 per year extra on the high end to as low as $62. Overall, the raises averaged about $8,900 per year.

BONUS PROGRAM

JEA credits its bonus program, which began in 1990, for fostering an "improvement culture" within the agency and focusing employees and managers on important goals.

"Employees tend to become more engaged in the processes we're doing," said Angelia Hiers, JEA's chief human resources officer. "They feel at that point they have more of a vested interest than just coming into work every day."

But the payouts have been a sensitive issue with city officials and JEA's financially strapped customers.

City Hall hasn't had a broad-based bonus program for its own employees since 2007 and has handed out few raises for most employees in recent years as it has wrestled with a shrinking tax base and ballooning annual pension obligations. City officials also laid off workers and cut pay to help balance the city's budget.

The last general pay increase for most of the city's union and non-union employees came in October 2008, and most also absorbed a 2 percent pay cut in October 2010, according to city officials.

"I could argue both sides of that," City Council President Bill Gulliford said of JEA's bonus program. "If we're not giving people that work for the city consideration, is that fair?"

Gulliford said the issue is indicative of a larger question over "how independent the independent authorities should be."

RAISES, PROMOTIONS

Throughout the 2012-13 fiscal year, 138 of JEA's 292 managerial-level employees received $1.2 million in pay hikes or promotions that resulted in raises.

The hikes were part of a rate study the utility commissioned in 2011 to determine if JEA's pay and benefits offered to its management team are competitive with industry standards.

Those employees had not received annual pay hikes since 2007. Utility officials were concerned the pay scale was beginning to lag behind industry standards, making it harder to recruit and retain talented managers.

JEA hired Towers Watson, a New York-based consulting firm, to conduct the study. …

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