Tuesday, November 4, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Many CoA temps make less than $11.50 per hour

The number of temporary employees hired by the City of Austin has increased over each of the past three years, as have the number of those employees making less than $11.50 per hour.

Though the city pays all of its roughly 12,000 regular employees at least $11.39 an hour, the same cannot be said for its thousands of temporary employees.

According to data furnished through a public information request from the Austin Monitor, the number of temporary employees working for the city in 2012 was 3,586. In 2013, that figure rose to 3,947 and in 2014 the number went up to 4,595.

The number of those temporary workers that make less than $11.50 an hour rose from 2,498 in 2012 to 2,744 in 2013 and to 3,287 in 2014. Though these figures may include younger summer employees such as lifeguards, city staff was unable to break out those figures in time for the publication of this story.

However, in an Aug. 21 memo to Mayor Lee Leffingwell and the rest of the Austin City Council, staff suggested that the “only” city employees making less than the $11 per hour were “temporary employees, most of whom are seasonal workers.”

In a chart included in that memo, it appears as if an increase of summer temporary workers’ salaries to $11 an hour would account for $288,913 of what would otherwise be a $1.68 million increase in overall budget impact should Council members elect to establish an $11 an hour citywide wage floor.

The average hourly wage for a City of Austin temporary employee making less than $11.50 an hour was relatively stable over the three-year period. In 2012, it was $8.78 an hour. That figure remained the same in 2013. In 2014, it rose to $8.79.

However, the number of temporary employees making between the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and $8.00 an hour has risen steadily over the time period.

Additionally, though the Monitor asked for projections about how many temporary workers the city might employ in 2015, city staff wrote that such a number was unavailable. “Projected information for temps in 2015 will not be reflected because we have no mechanism to calculate or assume the number of employees or work needed on an annual basis,” Mecia Griffin of the city’s Human Resources department wrote in a letter to the Monitor.

In a subsequent public information request, city staff was asked to tally the number of workers in hourly salary categories. In 2012, 635 (of 3,586) City of Austin temporary workers made between $10 and $11 an hour. That number dropped to 631 (of 3,947) in 2013, then rose to 1,089 (of 4,595) in 2014.

City temporary workers making between $9 and $10 an hour dropped steadily from 904 (of 3,586) in 2012 to 826 (of 3,947) in 2013 and to 658 (of 4,595) in 2014. Those making between $8 and $9 an hour rose from 671 in 2012, to 826 in 2013, and to 911 in 2014.

The number of City of Austin employees making between the federal minimum wage — currently $7.25 an hour — and $8 an hour also increased over the three-year period. In 2012, 952 (of 4,595) of the city’s temporary workforce fell into that category. By 2013, it rose to 1,103 (of 3,947). In 2014, it climbed to 1089 (of 4,595).

The concept of paying city employees and contractors a living wage has drawn attention from Council members in recent years. In late 2013, they attached prevailing wage provisions to economic incentives deals.

In April, Council members passed a resolution calling for a study of how much it might cost the city to pay its temporary workers a living wage, a figure Council members continued to classify as $11 an hour. Council also asked staff to explore the notion of tying the living wage rate to an index that would allow it to float with the market

The August memo was delivered as a response.

In addition to establishing the cost of an $11 an hour floor at $1.68 million, the memo also suggests that increase of 2.01 and 3.5 percent above that floor would cost the city $1.90 million and $1.98 million, respectively.

Still, in that memo, city staff concludes, “the City’s pay is comparable to other public sectors in the Austin area and the City should not increase the living wage rate.”

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole has an item on this week’s Council agenda that would study living wage requirements for the city’s social service contracts.

Attorney Kayvon Sabourian, speaking for Austin Interfaith, told the Monitor Monday that the organization welcomes a Council effort to bring temporary workers under the city’s living wage policy.

“Austin Interfaith is pleased that City Council, at the urging of Austin Interfaith institutions, is looking to bring the city’s ‘Temporary Workers’ under the City’s living wage policy,” Sabourian said in an email. “To be clear, we are talking about thousands of long-term, perennial and seasonal city jobs — jobs such as our crossing guards — not one-time gigs or strictly youth jobs. We know that in today’s economy, more and more Americans find themselves with no option but to cobble together such seasonal, part-time and contingent jobs to make ends meet.”

Sabourian continued, “As a community, we believe it is unjust and financially irresponsible to pay our own city employees poverty wages that end up requiring taxpayers to pick up the slack through public benefit programs. Unfortunately, City staff has failed to ensure that the city’s current living wage accurately reflects what it costs to live in today’s Austin.”

(This story has been updated to clarify the fact that the average wage for temporary employees between 2012 and 2014 applies to those temporary employees making less than $11.50 an hour. In 2012, that figure represents 2,498 of 3,586 employees; in 2013, 2,744 of 3,947; and in 2014, 3,287 of 4,595.)

Here is the first PIR response CoA HR staff sent to the Monitor:

Download (PDF, 78KB)

Here is the second:

Download (PDF, 188KB)

And here is the August 21 memo from staff:

Download (PDF, 216KB)

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Living Wage: The hourly rate an individual must earn to pay for themselves or their family. In Travis County, the living wage for one adult would be $10.97, according to the MIT living wage calculator.

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