Baton Rouge police officers, firefighters and the lowest-paid city workers in the Department of Public Works should soon see pay raises after years of pushing for increases when city leaders have deemed the budget too tight.
After failing again in December to add across-the-board pay raises into the 2015 budget, Mayor-President Kip Holden’s Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel pledged that his office would revamp the city’s pay plan by the first quarter of this year. Negotiations finally appeared to be coming to a close on Thursday.
The plan is for city employees to have an across-the-board pay raise of 2 percent or $500, whichever is greater, while the entire city-parish pay plan is expanded to give employees more opportunities for raises along the way. Minimum wage for city workers will increase from $7.25 an hour to either $9.30 an hour or $9.65 an hour depending on the job.
Current employees will still be allowed to accumulate unlimited sick leave and carry it over to eventually put toward early retirement, which is a win for the unions. The city-parish initially proposed capping the amount of sick leave current employees can rack up, which unions from both the Department of Public Works and the Baton Rouge Fire Department publicly opposed.
New employees, however, have fewer sick days and will continue to have 96 hours a year allotted for sick leave rather than seeing their amount of leave balloon over time. They also will have a cap of 480 hours for the amount of sick leave they can accrue.
The plan also includes changes to retirement benefits for new employees that affect minimum age for retirement and how retirement age penalties are calculated.
The new pay plan will be introduced at next week’s Metro Council meeting, and the council members should vote on it by the end of the month. The changes are expected to cost $6.6 million a year but will cost only $4.9 million this year because the pay changes will be in effect for only nine months.
The Metro Council will vote on a budget supplement that would allow the revamped pay plan to take effect this year. More than $2.2 million of the money to pay for this year’s raises is expected to come from existing money in the budget. The other portion — more than $2.6 million — is expected to come from new appropriations. Holden administration officials had previously said they would look at increased sales tax revenue in the early part of the year in making decisions about worker pay raises.
“We’ve compromised with them,” Daniel said Thursday, declining to say more until he briefs Metro Council members on the changes next week.
Many of the changes stem from a 2013 compensation study that had been commissioned a year earlier. The study found that Baton Rouge’s city workers were underpaid compared with their peers in other cities but that they enjoyed cushy benefits.
Baton Rouge’s city workers also have yearly 3 percent pay increases built into their salaries until they max out at the highest level of pay for their job. Once they have worked for the city-parish for 10 years, they receive additional money called longevity pay.
The longevity money is paid at a rate of 5 percent of a worker’s base pay, adding 1 percent each year until it tops out at 20 percent. The new pay proposal will take the money that would have been awarded as longevity pay and funnel it back into higher base pay as employees move up the pay plan.
Service Employees International Union local President LaTanja Silvester called the proposal a step in the right direction but said she is not entirely satisfied.
“Most people come to work in the city-parish because of the benefits they offer and because they are reducing the benefits. … It’s going to be hard to attract talented, devoted individuals into the system,” she said.
Baton Rouge Police Union leader Chris Stewart did not return calls Thursday. He previously told The Advocate that he hoped a recently approved 20 percent pay hike for State Police would weigh into negotiations for city police pay raises.
Stewart said he hoped the Mayor’s Office would push through a plan that would allow city police to compete for hires with State Police.
Shane Spillman, union leader for Baton Rouge firefighters, said the fire union is still negotiating with city leaders. He declined to comment further until negotiations are finished.