AP NEWS

Equity Pay Plan will make a difference

April 8, 2019

On April 24, the Santa Fe City Council has an opportunity to take a worthy step toward integrity for most of the city’s underpaid employees. It can vote for the Equity Pay Plan to be presented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3999.

We represent over half the city’s staff, from janitors to bus drivers and the line employees who do their best with what they have. After two years of the current three-year city contract, AFSCME employees are still well behind the cost-of-living increases since the 2009-10 fiscal year.

The Equity Pay Plan awards hourly salary rate increases on a “sliding scale,” with higher increases going to the lowest-paid employees. It also includes a seniority factor to compensate members who have been serving the city for many years. We have members who have worked for the city for more than 20 years still making $13 per hour, and who have not received raises in five of the last nine years.

As a union, we will continue to do our job on behalf of all our members, which means collaboration with the city managers to implement the recommendations of the current compensation study for job descriptions, pay ranges and increases reasonable to all our members. In this particular case, we have the unusual opportunity to propose a specific remedy for specific inequities. We hope the City Council will agree that this remedy is overdue and appropriate.

The cost of our plan is modest. Eighty-four percent of it is budgeted with $409,000 that was set aside for fiscal fear 2017-18 pay increases in our current contract but was never spent. The contract, ratified in the fall of 2017, gave management 60 days to propose the use of $409,000 for pay increases. If management did not propose a plan, which it did not, then the contract gave AFSCME the right to propose a pay plan of its own, which we are doing at the City Council meeting on April 24. This language ensured that, one way or the other, the money would be used to seed pay increases that are the first steps to addressing pay equity improvements.

Not too long ago, a reporter asked us a great question: Is this really going to make a difference in people’s lives? Nearly one-third of the AFSCME’s 750 members make less than $14 per hour. Some members might get an increase of $50 per paycheck, before taxes. If you make a lot of money, that may not sound like much. If you don’t, then you can see that the take-home pay from that amount could buy clothes your child needs, a transportation fix, medicine or some other things that you can’t afford right now. This vote may not transform our members’ lives, but we expect it will make a difference in their quality of life in the meantime.

Also, of course, any of these increases for AFSCME members, especially for long-serving members, help compensate for the five fiscal years out of the last nine in which AFSCME members did not receive increases. When the current contract was being negotiated in 2017, all AFSCME members’ wages were 5 percent behind the cost-of-living increases over the preceding six years.

We’ll work with management again in the future on pay negotiations, but let’s start those from a better place, just as we negotiated when management and the mayor agreed to our current contract.

Michelle Gutiérrez is president of AFSCME Local 3999. Tom Díaz is board member of AFSCME Local 3999. Ross Chaney, 2017 contract negotiator for AFSCME Local 3999, contributed to this piece.