Chula Vista City Manager Jim Sandoval's proposal for employee compensation is based on three principles. First, he says that Chula Vista should pay employees at the 66.7th percentile of comparable municipalities. Second, he says employees who are furthest behind should receive slightly larger raises to catch up than co-workers who are closer to the 66.7th percentile. Lastly, he proposes that employees who are at or above the 66.7th percentile should receive modest one-time stipends (bonuses) in lieu of raises.
Mr. Sandoval cloaks his proposal in rhetoric that acknowledges the City has privileged public safety at the expense of all other public services and the employees who provide them. Mr. Sandoval knows city workers, including those who ensure that buildings are constructed properly, who maintain waterways so they do not flood our streets, who prevent children from drowning in our pools agreed to pay their full share of their pension and have not received any wage increase since 2007 or 2008, in addition to seeing over 100 of their co-workers laid off at a time when the City’s budget and outlook were grim. But he wants these forgotten workers to forget the recent past.
Meanwhile, the City leadership used the cuts on these city workers’ pay and staffing to fund pay increases and added perks for police and fire as well as covering police and fire’s share of the pension in the form of salary increases. Police are now at the 88th percentile and police and fire consumes 2 out of every 3 dollars in the general fund. This is clearly a structural imbalance in the City’s budget that has resulted from giving more to police and fire at the expense of other City services and the dedicated employees who provide those services.
So why is Mr. Sandoval’s proposal flawed and ill-timed?
1. It ignores recent history – He acts as if the past five years did not happen. Chula Vista city employees are performing significantly more work for about 16% less take home pay in real dollars. The employees are only asking to restore 2009 pay through modest increases by 2016. Mr. Sandoval’s proposal would mean that employees will never return to the 2009 pay, not in 2016 and not in 2026. For employees at or above his artificially crafted 66.7th percentile line, he is proposing no new raises ever.
2. 66.7th Percentile of what peer group – Mr. Sandoval’s proposal does not take into account that employees are doing significantly more work and taking on additional responsibilities caused by the sharpest staffing cuts in the region. So the rankings across municipalities are not based on ‘apple to apple’ comparisons. Further, in the case of many jobs, Mr. Sandoval’s peer group is as small as 6 or 8 cities, which makes the use of percentiles a meaningless ranking since the peer group is too small and narrowly selected. It is not science, but rather a rationalization of Mr. Sandoval’s employee compensation proposal.
3. It Never Achieves its Stated Goal – Under Mr. Sandoval’s proposal, it would take at least 5 to 10 years for employees to achieve the 66.7th percentile (even if it were meaningful) and this assumes all other cities freeze pay and wait for Chula Vista employees to catch up. The City refuses to propose the 66.7th percentile as part of the contract because they acknowledge that they don’t want to be tied to it if other cities raise pay more quickly and at a higher amount.
Mr. Sandoval’s proposal is timed, and the data carefully constructed, to fit a political agenda to use City workers who for the past 5 years have done more with less and for less as a tool to box in the police and firefighters in current and future negotiations. City employees do not oppose the concept of a salary survey, as long as it is done properly. However, now is not the time and Mr. Sandoval’s current proposal would seriously damage the wages of devoted employees for years to come.
The Chula Vista budget may look like dollars and cents on a spreadsheet, but the budget is really a reflection of the City’s values and choices. It is time the city leaders choose to value all city workers and acknowledge that a safe and healthy community includes parks, libraries, water, roads, environmental conservation, planning and all the other valuable work that contribute to Chula Vista’s quality of life.
Alcoff is Service Employees International Union on behalf of Chula Vista city workers, middle managers and professional employees