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City union urges Council to ‘do right thing’ with 3 percent pay raise

Monday, August 26, 2013 by Michael Kanin

In search of a 3 percent pay raise, members of the union that represents local municipal employees showed up in force Thursday for the first of two public hearings about the City of Austin’s FY2014 budget. There, they unloaded on what they characterized as a bloat in city management and implored Council members to “do the right thing.”


With the hour advancing, AFSCME Local 1624 union representative Carol Guthrie told Council members that she would be brief. “I want to take this opportunity to thank these wonderful city employees who have to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning tomorrow to stay, to come and deliver the message to each and every one of you that they are worth it – and I know you all know that,” she said. “So do the right thing: Give ‘em the three percent.”


Guthrie’s request followed a more specific set of remarks from union rep Caitlin Brown. Brown offered a raft of statistics designed to illustrate the recent growth of city management. “Over the last four years city management has exploded. One out of every 3 non-sworn positions filled at the City during this timeframe has been at the management or executive level,” Brown said. “Management positions have increased by an astounding 13 percent in four years, compared to less than 1 percent of the total civilian workforce. You’ve got to wonder–who are all of these new managers actually managing?”


Brown implied an answer as she continued. “The explosive growth in management has added numerous layers of unneeded bureaucracy,” she said. “It has placed a major strain on the budget and comes at a high cost to both front-line employees and the taxpayers they serve. The City Manager has long touted his goal of creating ‘The Best Managed City in America.’ It appears instead that he has actually created ‘The Most Managed City in America.’”


In a notated version of her remarks sent to In Fact Daily, Brown explained where she got the statistics. As for the 13 percent growth in management positions compared to less than 1 percent of the current workforce, she said the figures came from her own analysis of “employees in the City of Austin, by job title, that AFSCME previously obtained under open records.”


“I compared a list of employees from June 2009 to one from June 2013,” Brown wrote noting that “these calculations do not include sworn positions or temporary positions.” Brown also said that “since my data only looked at filled positions during both timeframes, it does not account for hires in positions that may have since been vacated.”


Brown added that she “categorized ‘management’ as any title at a manager level or higher (this includes, but is not limited to: managers, superintendents, division managers, assistant/deputy directors, officers, deputy officers, VPS, GMs, CFOs, COO, etc. It excludes supervisor titles.”


Council members took no action and delivered few remarks during Thursday’s budget hearings. They are set to conduct another round of public remarks this week, hold a work session on Sept. 3 for more budget discussion, and then make a final decision on the budget Sept. 9-11.


The union push for a 3 percent raise began in earnest after word began to circulate that city staff would consider a smaller increase. Indeed, at an early budget work session, City Budget Officer Ed Van Eenoo told Council members that a three percent raise would remain unaffordable for the city without other cuts until at least FY2018.


City employees did not receive a pay increase in FY2010. Though civil service members of the city’s police, fire, and EMS departments have seen 3 percent annual wage hikes, city civilians were less fortunate – having received raises in the range of between 2 and 3 percent from FY2011 through FY2013.


At Wednesday’s budget work session, Council Member Laura Morrison tried to carve out time to hear her colleagues’ thoughts on employee raises. She ran out of meeting. Council members did not offer much in the way of substantive comment Thursday evening.


AFSCME representatives suggest that it would take $2 million to bump city employees from a 1.5 percent raise – as currently pitched by city staff – to a 3 percent raise. Thursday evening, they reminded Council members that they had shown them where they believe cuts could be made to reach that figure.


Council members will back for more budget discussion at next week’s Council meeting.

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