City workers and union members filled the assembly room Tuesday to urge the Chattanooga City Council to increase their paychecks.
While they wait on implementation of a potential pay plan from the administration, they asked council members to take a second look at how raises are distributed.
They argued that a 1.5 percent across-the-board salary bump in this year’s budget proposal would not significantly affect the paychecks of many employees. They said the increase for many of them would amount to about $8 more a week.
Robert Hart, city facilities manager, said it takes very little effort to look at a percentage-based pay increase and see how unfair it is. He highlighted the pay differences between upper-level management and lower-level employees.
"This system’s been in place for years. And no matter the percentage, the men and women in the lower pay scale always seem to be overlooked," he said.
City Hall’s budget proposal includes an additional $950,000 for pay adjustments in the Chattanooga Police Department. Some officers and sergeants will see their pay go up if they have been adversely affected by a broken pay structure. Additionally, the fire department may see a similar overhaul, according to Human Resources Director Todd Dockery.
It’s been six years, though, since HR looked at the city’s general pay plan. Dockery’s staff will be conducting an in-depth analysis to determine if changes are needed. A recommendation will be made to Mayor Andy Berke by July 1, 2015.
"A pay plan should be looked at every three to five years, and we’re going into year six now," Dockery said.
City government is the eighth-largest employer in the region. Out of 2,794 employees, approximately 1,000 are considered general employees, excluding public safety. However, changes to the pay scale could potentially affect other city employees as well, according to Dockery.
An overhaul could be more complicated than the ones being considered for the police and fire departments. It involves reviewing records for more employees who fall under different, complex job classifications.
The average annual salary in the Hamilton County area was $43,480 in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Across city government, the average employee earns $41,247 a year. But the salary levels discussed Tuesday were significantly less than that figure.
Doug Collier, president of Service Employees International Union Local 205, represents about 300 city workers. The union’s local membership runs the gamut from librarians to sanitation workers, he said.
General employees do not currently have a pay plan, and the administration has pledged to work with the union to address the problem, he said.
"A 1.5 percent increase across the board, we feel, just adds to the problem," he said. "As in the past, absent a structured pay plan, the across-the-board increase just means those making the most will make even more."
The city’s budget includes an increase to health insurance premiums. The increase would impact all employees, regardless of their salaries, he said.
Instead of giving employees a 1.5 percent raise, the union leader asked council members to boost hourly wages by 50 cents, which would amount to an annual salary increase of $1,040 for general employees at all levels of city government.
Alonzo Strickland, a 25-year employee with the Public Works Department, asked council members to approve a budget that includes a "meaningful raise."
"What we do is not glamorous, but it’s very important," he said. If city streets were not cleaned or brush and leaves were not removed, "you would notice."
"If the garbage wasn’t picked up, you would definitely notice," he said.
There are longtime city employees who earn less than $30,000 a year, he said. "It’s a shame. Notice us. Respect us. Show us that you value our work."