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Cronk promises employee pay raises next year

Wednesday, September 11, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Austin city employees were expecting a 2.5 percent pay raise for Fiscal Year 2020 from the time staff’s proposed budget was revealed. But many of them, after reading about the 3.5 percent tax cap imposed by the state Legislature, were concerned that this year’s raise might be the last one.

During Tuesday’s budget adoption process, Council Member Greg Casar introduced a direction to City Manager Spencer Cronk instructing him to move forward, assuming that the city will continue to make employee raises a priority.

Council Member Leslie Pool, who worked with Casar and the local government employees union, extracted a rare comment from Cronk committing to take care of employees next year, too.

Some members of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, anticipating that they would not receive a raise next year, had asked Council for a 3 percent raise this year in order to cushion the blow next year.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Casar called AFSCME leader Carol Guthrie to the podium for a discussion. He proposed adding a budget direction to Cronk, which said, “in approving the 2.5 percent COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) this year, Council acknowledges that our current financial planning for next year actually assumes a 2.5 percent cost-of-living market adjustment increase for all city employees” next year and that “we’re dedicated … to competitive wages for our workforce moving forward.”

Casar acknowledged that although Council cannot dictate what future councils may or may not put in future city budgets, Council members can make their intentions clear to the city manager.

Guthrie thanked Council for the proposed pay raise for 2020 and acknowledged that employees had expressed fears there would be no such raise next year. “As you heard from the testimony of the people who spoke (at public hearings on the budget), most of them were very grateful for the 2.5 percent, but there was this feeling that there would be zero the following year. And that’s why we had bumped up” their request from 2.5 percent to 3 percent, she said.

Guthrie also revealed that she had had a conversation with Cronk on Friday “and we have agreed to hold back on the 3 percent as long as there is a commitment … from the city manager to make sure that the employees were taken care of the following year, so that is what we would like to see. We’re very grateful to have the 2.5 this year.”

But Pool wanted to make sure Cronk was on the record for next year. She said everyone on the dais recognized “the goal of achieving an equal pay increase for all of our employees next year and I really was hoping that we would take this opportunity from the dais to express that support, specifically the commitment to that goal from the city manager.”

As she said this, she kept looking around to see if Cronk was getting ready to say anything. The mayor thanked her and Pool added, “I really was hoping that the city manager would actually say that.”

Cronk finally said, “I’ll just confirm that commitment, providing support for our employees; I mean, this is something that I have been committed to from the beginning. We have an incredible workforce, full of dedicated staff that day in and day out provide great services for our residents, and so we’ll strive even in constrained budgets to do what we can to ensure that they’re supported.”

Pool responded, “I think that verbal commitment is a very important message to carry back to all city employees, in particular our excellent and strong AFSCME membership. I appreciate AFSCME’s leadership on this topic and also the city’s willingness to go to the mat for these employees, because it’s the employees who do the day-to-day work,” including with the homeless.

Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo provided Council with the chart Tuesday showing that the city should have a $700,000 surplus going into Fiscal Year 2020-21. However, the following year the city will face a $7.1 million gap and that will grow to $26.5 million by FY 2023-24.

A little bit later, in response to questions about pay for lifeguards, Human Resources Director Joya Hayes told Council that all “open water lifeguards” would make $16 an hour in the upcoming year, as compared to the current pay of $15.25 or $15.50 an hour. Their supervisors’ pay will be adjusted upward also, she said.

The city has had considerable trouble recruiting and keeping lifeguards, some of whom worked year-round but most of whom work only during the summer months.

Following a discussion about whether lifeguards, who are considered temporary employees, were being treated fairly because they do not get extra pay for working holidays, Hayes said her department would have to research the question because there are temporary employees in many other departments in the city. Pool said she would like to receive the results of such a study as a report to the Council Audit & Finance Committee.

M.Fitzsimmons [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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