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Commissioners Court dismisses pay pleas from disgruntled employees

Wednesday, September 18, 2019 by Jack Craver

On Tuesday, members of the Travis County Commissioners Court responded to claims from two groups of public safety workers who feel unappreciated due to the amount of pay they receive. In both cases, commissioners made it clear that they didn’t believe the claims were justified.

First, there is the issue of pay for law enforcement and corrections employees, whose pay and benefits are on a separate pay scale from civilian county workers.

Although the Commissioners Court voted earlier this month to fund step increases that will provide public safety workers an average pay increase of 2.6 percent, public safety unions have been blasting the commissioners – particularly County Judge Sarah Eckhardt – for declining to approve the 3 percent hike they recommended.

“Sarah Eckhardt refuses to support the hard working men and women of Law Enforcement – yet approved her own raise. #Unethical,” read a Facebook post by the Travis County Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Association, which represents patrol officers.

The Travis County Sheriff’s Officers Association, which represents corrections personnel, said the commissioners’ move was proof of their “disdain and disrespect” for law enforcement.

“You have no regard for the sacrifice of family, safety, and the ultimate sacrifice of LIFE these men and women are willing to give for the people of Travis County to which you claim to care so much about,” the group added.

Both groups later posted and ridiculed a photo that Eckhardt had taken of herself eating a snow cone in celebration of a “record finish” to the annual budget markup, a key step in the budget process.

“Record time because she refused to consider fair pay for law enforcement officials,” commented the TCSLEA.

“The men and women who serve Travis County find this to be very hurtful, heartless and disturbing,” read a post by the TCSOA.

On Tuesday, Eckhardt alluded to “social media posts that wrongly stated that the Commissioners Court did not provide a salary increase to those on the peace officer pay scale.”

While she supported the pay bump for those on the public safety pay scale, Eckhardt emphasized that the county has long paid members of that group well above the market average, a privilege that has not generally been extended to the civilian workforce.

Other commissioners emphasized that they supported pay raises for law enforcement, but highlighted the county’s many competing priorities.

Later, the Commissioners Court dealt with a request by the Pretrial Services Department to reinstate a special “shift differential” pay that the county ended at the beginning of the year.

While county employees who work outside of the traditional 8-to-5 schedule are eligible for slightly higher pay, Pretrial Services workers also received 5 percent higher pay for working on holidays or weekends.

That unique situation was scrapped as part of the county’s new shift differential policy that went into effect Jan. 1. Tracey Calloway, the director of human resources, explained that other public entities that the county competes with for employees don’t offer weekend or holiday pay either.

The HR department had sought to resolve the issue by boosting the base salaries of employees who worked weekends and holidays. On average, those employees got $600 raises, said Calloway.

Nevertheless, Pretrial Services Director Rudy Perez objected to the change and asked the Commissioners Court to reinstate weekend and holiday pay – and to apply it retroactively to weekend or holiday hours his employees have worked over the past eight and a half months. While the salary increase was appreciated, Perez said, he regretted the loss of an “incentive” to get people to work undesirable hours.

Reinstating the old policy for Pretrial Services would only cost the county an extra $18,000 a year, but both HR staff and commissioners raised concerns about what the cost would be if other employee groups asked for the same treatment.

“I’m not in favor of creating an exception,” said Commissioner Brigid Shea.

Similarly, Eckhardt said that weekend and holiday shifts are simply part of taking a job that must be staffed 24/7.

“That is not nontraditional,” she said. “That is what the job requires.”

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