JACKSON, Michigan - Among the many, many tales of the vast gaps between what those at the top make compared to those at the bottom, a credit union CEO in Michigan stands out for displaying a different sort of leadership.

All but one of the 187 employees of American 1 Credit Union recently received substantial raises, with the bulk of the more than $950,000 in extra pay going to hourly employees. That's because CEO Martha Fuerstenau took herself out of contention, Laura Pryor, a vice president at the Jackson, Michigan, credit union told MLive.com.

"That was her choice. It wasn't about her, at all," Pryor told the local news site. "It was about the whole organization. She said, 'We're not including me in this conversation.'"

The credit union is growing, and the increased pay -- averaging around $5,000 per worker -- will help recruit and retain workers, she noted. For those just starting out with little workplace experience, for instance, their hourly pay just jumped 18 percent, to $13 an hour from the $11 the credit union had been paying.

Pryor confirmed the account to CBS MoneyWatch on Friday, saying "we've had staff that have shed tears because of being overwhelmed, [saying] 'I can fix that now,' or 'I can do that now'. It's a life-changer for many people."

The credit union, a not-for-profit cooperative, has given $2.58 million to members during the past two years, in the form of interest rebates on loans and other givebacks, and is also "very generous in our communities, and the thought was, wait a minute, our staff," said Pryor, adding "we say it's a trickle up."

The credit union last year started paying an hourly premium for work after 5 p.m. and on Saturdays, and also started giving employees monthly contributions towards student loans, said Pryor, adding that "our staff is why we're successful."

The credit union runs 13 branches, with most of its employees in Jackson County, Michigan.

© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.