TOPEKA, Kan. – City Manager Jim Colson has put a plan in place to address immediate pay practice concerns in the Topeka Fire Department caused by salary compression. On Tuesday, Colson directed staff to designate Fire Department battalion chief and shift commander positions as “exempt” positions under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and discontinue the practice of extending overtime payments to any management positions, including the battalion chiefs and shift commanders, after November 9, 2013.
Colson also announced he will work with the governing body to assemble a review team to immediately begin assessing the City’s compensation philosophy, including the issue of salary compression, and report back to the Council on its findings at the soonest possible date with a target date not to exceed six months.
Since April 28, 2001, the City of Topeka has allowed 24-hour supervisory positions in the Fire Department to earn overtime pay, as a strategy to address compression problems that exist when individuals leave positions covered by the fire union and enter the management and executive pay matrix. While this practice is unique, it is not illegal. Within the City of Topeka, this serious organizational issue has eluded a successful remedy for several years. Salary compression impacts all departments throughout the city, including police and public works.
In the Fire Department, six active battalion chiefs and three shift commanders fall into this category. These employees did nothing to cause the issue, but accepted positions with more responsibility based on the existing pay matrix. They will be negatively impacted by a change in pay practices.
“Salary compression” is defined simply as an inequality of pay between differently ranked individuals within the same organization; specifically, that higher ranked individuals earn approximately the same or less than lower ranked positions based on the overall pay matrix. Salary compression is a challenge to organizations because it can make attracting internal candidates to fill important management positions more difficult.