More Questions About City Pay Increases By KEITH WINNARD, Commentary

Friday April 01, 2005

I hope you assign some of your reporters to follow up on the statements summarized below made in a letter by SEIU union member Heath Maddox published in your March 25-28 issue. In his letter, Mr. Maddox lists a number of “sacrifices” city employees have made to reduce city expenses. 

1. Mr. Maddox wrote that the current labor contract with union members gives them a 28.5 percent raise over a six-year period, while city managers were given a 27 percent raise all at once. I’m not sure why he refers to this in the context of sacrifices by unionized employees, but it does seem to me that a 27 percent raise in one year is excessive. Which city managers received such generous raises, and what did they do to deserve such large increases? 

2. According to Mr. Maddox, some city employees have to take time off without pay during office closures. I thought that since full-time city employees get from two to six weeks of paid vacation annually, 13 scheduled and three personal paid holidays a year, and can carry over up to eight weeks of unused vacation days, no full time employee would actually see a reduction in their monthly pay check as a result of city office closures. What percentage of full-time city employees will actually see a reduction in their monthly take-home pay as a result of these office closures? How are part-time employees affected by these closures? Are their work-schedules adjusted so as to prevent reductions in their take-home pay too? 

3. Mr. Maddox concludes that the failure of Berkeley to keep up with other cities in wages offered to its employees will result in an exodus of many of these employees to greener pastures. This would be a problem if the positions they vacated could not be filled by qualified replacements. What is the percentage of positions Berkeley has open for which it is having difficulty attracting qualified applicants (i.e. for which it has received fewer than four applications in a month from candidates who meet the minimum requirements of the job)? I recently spoke to an analyst in the city’s Human Resources Department who indicated that his department does not keep track of the number of qualified applicants per open position. Perhaps his department should do so. 

It is my understanding that none of the “sacrifices” Mr. Maddox mentioned and none of the proposed cuts to city services would be necessary if city employees simply agreed to contribute the same proportion of their wages and salaries to their own pension plan as those of us in the private sector do through Social Security taxes. Currently, union employees contribute nothing to their own publicly funded retirement plan. This allows them to retire totally at the Berkeley property tax payers’ expense with pensions that are better than many of these taxpayers will ever receive themselves. Could one of your reporters verify whether my perceptions are correct? 


Keith Winnard is a Berkeley resident.?