Champlin defends track record against campaign literature

Workplace discrimination allegations surface in State House race

Allegations of workplace discrimination and equal gender pay surfaced recently in the race for House Dist. 36A, which covers Champlin and parts of Coon Rapids.

Candidate Grace Baltich confirmed publishing literature from her campaign claiming Mark Uglem, as mayor of Champlin, discriminated against women working for the city. Baltich says these claims are based on actions taken during Champlin’s budgeting process in 2009. The Minnesota DFL Party has also been circulating campaign literature with these claims.

“Of course we expect to take some heat [in a campaign] but these are attacks on the city of Champlin too and I’m protective of that,” said Uglem. “I can’t say enough good things about the people working at the city and the great job they do for Champlin.”

Uglem wasn’t the only one speaking up against the allegations last week.

Champlin’s City Administrator Bret Heitkamp shared his thoughts during the open forum at the Oct. 22 council meeting.

“There is no factual basis for these allegations,” said Heitkamp.

Heitkamp confirmed the city has been in compliance with the state’s Pay Equity Act since its implementation date in 1991, achieving full compliance with the Act in 1994 and for every audit since. The Pay Equity Act measures compliance of male and female compensation levels in similar job classifications. The city is audited every three years with the most recent compliance check occurring in 2010.

The campaign literature cites a newspaper article that references Champlin’s 2009 budget planning process during which the city caught some criticism for giving raises to four top level male employees while cutting the hours of lower-paid female city clerks.

The raises were given as part of the Employee Compensation Guidelines, to keep the city’s employee salaries in line with comparable cities based on the Metropolitan Area Salary Survey. This is a practice the city had been implementing for more than a decade before the 2009 criticism.

“We want to keep talented people working for the city of Champlin and compensate them fairly,” said Uglem about the reasoning behind the council’s policy. Despite the economic climate in 2009, Johnston said the council never considered waiving the market adjustments altogether; however, they only gave half of the market adjustment in 2009 deferring the other half to 2011.

The market adjustments aren’t given only to top paying employees. They are based on survey data and have been given to numerous employees over the years.

“The 12-year historical data indicates that Champlin has issued 53 market adjustments impacting 51 employees since 1999,” said Heitkamp at the Oct. 22 council meeting.

Meanwhile, during the same 2009 budgeting process, the council approved the city’s department heads’ recommendation to cut hours for the city’s four clerks. June Johnston has been the city’s finance director since 2002 and refutes the claims the city discriminated based on gender.

“When we looked at position cuts, we looked at the job title, not whether a man or woman held the position,” said Johnston. She also said two of the individuals in the positions with cut hours said they were willing to take the reductions.

“It seemed unequitable [sic] cutting back on women-dominated jobs,” said Baltich. “If doing something under the guise of budget cuts, cities can choose not to give wage hikes.”

Baltich concedes that it is possible gender pay discrimination wasn’t overtly intentional but maintains that people’s beliefs and values could subconsciously be playing a part.

“With a male dominated council and males in the top paid positions, there may be personal biases that they aren’t even conscious or aware of,” said Baltich. She went on to state she has concerns about where Uglem would stand on the pay equity issue if he were to be elected since bills to repeal the pay equity act were introduced in both the Minnesota House and Senate in 2011.

Uglem confirmed he is in favor of equal pay for men and women and as a general policy, would not vote against the Pay Equity Act.

Heitkamp refuted the claims in the campaign literature because he said, “he wants to protect the integrity of the city.”

“Market adjustments have been allocated equitably among union and non-union, front line staff to management and more importantly both male and female classifications,” Heitkamp said. “I felt it was extremely important to assure the residents of Champlin that the allegations of workplace discrimination being circulated in campaign literature do not accurately convey both the city’s legal obligation outlined in the state pay equity act nor the longstanding commitment from the city council to compensate employees on a fair and equitable basis.”