City-parish Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel unveiled a plan at Wednesday’s East Baton Rouge Metro Council meeting that would give raises to all city employees, including raising their minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour, though many said the proposal did not go far enough.
The strategy comes after a 2013 study that the council commissioned concluded many city employees are underpaid, especially those in the Department of Public Works.
The raises would cost the city more than $5 million and bump up workers’ pay between 2 and 3 percent. The new plan also increases the number of employment steps a city worker can take from 12 to 22, giving more opportunities for raises along the way, while pulling away benefits and retirement packages.
The city’s 4,500 employees would receive at least a 2 percent raise, or an additional $500 a year if that is more than the 2 percent. However, sick leave will be tightened and unused sick days would not roll over from year to year nor go toward retirement.
“No employees would come out of this with a lower salary than going in, and they would have additional opportunity for raises,” Daniel said.
Several people from DPW spoke up at the meeting, calling the trade-off unfair and saying that raises of 2 to 3 percent were not enough. Aside from yearly “cost of living” raises that are capped after the 12th step, Department of Public Works employees have not had raises in eight years.
To exemplify this, those attending the meeting said they would have had two more speakers if they did not have to leave for their second jobs, a necessary way to make a living because of their low city job wages.
Daniel called the benefits-for-pay concession necessary, and said current sick leave policies and retirement packages are out of line with those in the private workforce. Under the city’s current policy, workers earn half of their total compensation after they retire, Daniel said.
While presenting the plan, he sported a sticker on his lapel that proclaimed “I am more than a budget item,” as if to show solidarity with the public works employees in attendance. They wore similar stickers, handing out others with slogans like “we need raises.”
Adding to the disagreements were different time estimates of when the plan would go into effect. Daniel insisted that the raises would start in the first quarter of 2015, with employees seeing higher wages by March. The higher earnings would come from a budget supplement to be introduced next year, meaning the mayor’s office does not intend to include the raises in the 2015 budget proposal that will be released in a few weeks.
But LaTanja Silvester, president of the local Service Employees International Union, and Councilman John Delgado, both said there’s no guarantee the raises will come in the first quarter. Silvester said the money might come around April, but if it’s not there, the process could be delayed again.
“Let’s pay attention to the amount of money that we’re spending on a gallon of milk,” Silvester said. “So, folks that are making $9 (an hour) or beneath $9, there is a struggle every day.”
Daniel said the new pay plan would raise minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour. He also noted that the majority of workers who make less than $9 an hour are students, part-time and seasonal workers.