Water and power
|By Neal McNamara|
What drove this guy to request the (actual) salaries of all employees of the Board of Water and Light?
Steve Harry lives in a comfortable house on the banks of the Grand River on Tecumseh River Drive in north Lansing.
“It was something that was in the back of my mind,” he said calmly, sitting on a couch in his den on a recent afternoon. “I think someone had said to me, ‘If you got a job at BWL, you have it made.’”
The information Harry received — at least to him — was surprising: Eighty-six BWL employees made at least $30,000 each more than their base salaries, with the highest — a non-union supervisor — nearly doubling his $69,388 salary with an extra $66,067. Further, Harry discovered that another 375 BWL employees had exceeded their base salaries by $2,000 to $11,937.
Harry said that the issue of pay at BWL had interested him since reading reports of ex-BWL executives who were either fired or left the utility receiving payouts totaling $1.3 million.
“It’s usually overtime and bonuses — you expect a lot of overtime,” Harry surmised. “For the salaried people, it was more surprising.”
Sue Warren, BWL’s marketing and business strategy director, said that the overpay came from overtime related to last year’s tornado and winter water main breaks, “achievement awards” for salaried employees that come with a monetary reward, health benefits and employees who opt to take payouts in lieu of vacation time.
“All these people earn that money; it’s not like we are just giving them money,” she said. “They do earn the money.”
Byrnes said much the same. The employees that provide “critical services” are always on call, which can lead to a lot of overtime. However, IBEW BWL employees don’t get bonuses.
Toward the end of an interview with Harry, his wife called. When he told her he was being interviewed by a reporter, she told him to “be good.” But it doesn’t seem to be a matter of behavior for Harry, as he seems more a public policy hobbyist than gadfly. For example, he says his run against Bauer was just to get across some of his platforms. He just enjoys researching and writing about public policy.
An earlier version of this story was incorrect in explaining the total salaries of all BWL employees, including ones that made more than their base salary. The total extra-salary earnings in 2008 was about $8 million.