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Thousands of City of San Diego workers to get 9 percent raises

Posted at 12:56 PM, Apr 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-29 20:31:40-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Thousands of City of San Diego workers will see their salary increase 9 percent over the next two years, under a tentative agreement between the mayor's office and one of the city's biggest labor unions.

"I recognize that increases at this time may seem strange to San Diegans, however, many of them received increases during a booming economic time that our city employees never received, and because we've come to what I think are extremely reasonable increases spaced out over a series of years, we can afford this and we should do this," Mayor Todd Gloria said in an interview.

The Municipal Employees Association, which represents more than 5,000 workers, announced details of the agreement this on its website. Workers will see their salaries increase 4 percent on July 1, and then another 5 percent on July 1, 2022. The agreement also will lead to the beginning of defined benefit pensions for all of its members, which have been absent for new city hires since 2012. The union represents positions including librarians, 9-1-1 dispatchers, engineers, park rangers, clerical assistants, recreation center directors, and code compliance officers.

The city has reached tentative agreements with MEA, AFSCME, and the Deputy City Attorneys Association. It is still negotiating with police, fire and lifeguard unions. The deals will go before the City Council for final approval.

Gloria said the increased compensation is long overdue. He noted the city pays 25 percent less than other jurisdictions in the county, and offers minimal retirement benefits. Gloria said that's led to a 12 percent job vacancy rate, and workers using San Diego as a training ground before taking jobs at other agencies.

"San Diegans have been very clear with me. They want higher service levels in their neighborhoods. They want more library hours, more road repair, quicker response times on 9-1-1. By fairly compensating our employees, that's how we get their higher service levels," he said. "The fiction that we can continue to hold salaries stable for over a decade is not a recipe for success."

Gloria noted that employees did not receive pay increases for five years under Measure B, which also changed pensions for new hires to 401(k) style plans for employees hired after July 2012. The courts recently invalidated Measure B, and the MEA says it will meet and confer with the city to make workers whole and launch pensions for new hires. Gloria said new employees would pay into the pension system, helping it remain solvent.

Labor Unions were extremely supportive of Gloria's 2020 run for mayor, with the MEA spending $250,000 for ads that supported Gloria and attacked opponent Barbara Bry. Asked whether that impacted his objectivity to negotiate, Gloria said, "There is a relationship there of mutual trust where we recognize, both of us, them and I, are most concerned about providing services to San Diegans, and so we remained at the table to hash out our differences and come to something that we can afford."

In a statement on its website, the MEA said it has spent the past few years explaining to elected officials the impacts of low city compensation on its workers.

"The City’s current Mayor and City Councilmembers have not only spent the time to understand this history and its detrimental consequences but they are taking action to begin making long overdue improvements in the City’s compensation practices," the statement said.

Gloria said the negotiations were intensive, with the initial salary increase proposals far apart. He said the increases will cost $22 million in the $4.6 billion city budget. He said the raises are possible because of the recent federal stimulus check. Without that money, the mayor said there could have pink slips or pay cuts. Gloria said projected increases in sales tax, property tax and tourist tax will help operational costs moving forward.