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American Family raises minimum wage for all employees to $20 per hour
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AMERICAN FAMILY INSURANCE | $20-AN-HOUR MINIMUM WAGE

American Family raises minimum wage for all employees to $20 per hour

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Madison-based American Family Insurance raised its minimum wage for employees nationwide by $5 an hour, bumping up the pay for close to 1,700 workers.

The $20-per-hour wage — previously $15 — will apply to workers in various roles, such as customer service, claims and administration.

More than 500 employees in Wisconsin, including 350 in Madison, will have their pay increased, retroactively effective Jan. 1.

Customer service representative Tyler Scott, 28, is among the many who will benefit from the pay increase. Scott has been working at the call center on Madison’s Far East Side for about six months, he said, making $17.81 per hour.

“Even with $17.81 an hour, I was still struggling a little because I have pretty significant student loans,” Scott said.

He said with the raise, he’ll be able to live more comfortably.

“As an organization committed to exceptional customer service, it is essential we invest in our employees who provide that service,” Gerry Benusa, enterprise chief people officer, said in a statement. “Offering competitive wages not only helps ensure we attract and retain customer-focused employees; it also allows them to invest in their careers, dreams and communities.”

Scott said the pay raise is just one of the ways that American Family shows it cares about its employees.

“This company cares,” Scott said. “Other companies say that, but here you can really tell.”

The raise also applies to companies in the American Family group, including The General, Main Street American, Homesite Group and others.

Contractors, including custodians and food-service workers at the company’s Madison campus, are not included in the minimum wage increase as they are not paid directly by American Family, spokeswoman Janet Masters said. American Family agents and their office workers are also not included as the agents are independent contractors and employ their own staff as contractors.

The minimum wage for American Family employees was increased, in part, to attract and retain workers, Masters said.

“It’s a difficult time to attract talent in general with the low unemployment rate, so we think this helps,” Masters said.

Other Madison-area employers have also set minimum employee pay well above the state and federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

At Exact Sciences and UW Health, employees make a minimum of $15 per hour. At UW Credit Union, the minimum is $15.75 per hour.

Urban League helping fill Exact Sciences’ many job openings

UW-Madison plans to bump pay from $13.27 per hour to $15 this spring, the university announced in November. The wage increase will mostly benefit those in custodial, animal care and food-service positions. It will not apply to student or temporary workers.

Gov. Tony Evers has proposed a minimum wage of $15 per hour for all state employees, which failed to pass the Legislature.

Committee approves 2% pay raises for UW, state employees

Dane County has an ordinance setting a living wage standard, county controller Chuck Hicklin said, but all county employees make more than that. Hicklin said the lowest base wage for a county employee would be $18.49 per hour for weapon-screening workers at the courthouse.

City of Madison employees make a minimum of $15 per hour, human services manager Mike Lipski said, aside from food and beverage servers who earn $8.09 per hour and receive tips. If the worker doesn’t receive enough in tips to reach $15 per hour, the city pays that worker the difference.

Lipski said the starting wage for permanent positions with the city is above $19 per hour.

Fave 5: Business reporter Shelley K. Mesch shares top stories from 2019

We are sharing Wisconsin State Journal staffers' favorite work from 2019. From business reporter Shelley Mesch: I spent the first half of 2019 covering Dane County government and rounded out the second half by joining the business desk, where I focus on technology and start-ups.

Exact Sciences -- one of the major Madison companies I get to keep an eye on -- has hundreds of job openings, and I learned about how the biotech company is teaming up with Urban League of Greater Madison to train potential employees.

Another business story that caught my interest came from area business leaders touting the region as a prime location for new startups. It made me wonder how well Wisconsin is stacking up to its Midwestern neighbors in venture capital investments.

Yet another question I found myself asking -- do you see a trend here in how I find my stories? -- was about the rising popularity of e-bikes, particularly after BCycle converted its fleet of short-term rentals to the pedal-assisted bikes. The story was an interesting one to report, and I’m not just saying that because it got me back on a bike for the first time in about 10 years.

A reporting excursion earlier in the year, when I was still reporting on Dane County, took me out to a landfill, where the county had just turned on a giant processing plant to clean the methane and other gases emitted from the mountains of trash. Those emissions are then sold as natural gas, which can even be used as a more environmentally friendly vehicle fuel. Luckily, when I toured the facility, the garbage didn’t even smell that bad.

One of the more challenging stories I wrote this year involved the county-owned Vilas Zoo, which decided in March that it could not reach an agreement with the Henry Vilas Zoological Society, the zoo’s fundraising arm for more than 100 years. My initial reporting led to more than a dozen more articles on the conflict and sparked county-wide conversations about what could have, would have and should have been done differently.

If you want to read my other stories, you can find them here.

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The county had long been trapping the methane and other gases emitted from the heaps of garbage at the landfill to be used for electricity, but the county is now using that resource to create and sell compressed natural gas (CNG), a more eco-friendly vehicle fuel than gasoline and diesel. 

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