Local 100 Press Release:
City Workers Union Calls for Mayor Nagin to Help Lead the Many for Raises, Not Just the Few!

05/16/02


Local 100 SEIU released a letter written by Chief Organizer Wade Rathke to Mayor Ray Nagin and the City Council in behalf of the 2000 city workers represented by the union expressing concern that the message being sent by today’s huge wage increases for top managers should “insensitivity” the contributions and financially “dire straits” being faced by many of the city’s public servants.

The letter point out that for the same amount of money being approved for these eight (8) managers, more than 200 city workers could be raised from the federal minimum wage currently being paid to at least the $6.15 per hour level recently approved by the voters for private sector workers. Additionally, the letter pointed out that more than 100 workers could be raised to the poverty level from their current wages for the same amount of money.

The union asked the Mayor to meet with them to jointly come up with a plan that “raised the floor” for city workers and made sure that “all city workers” received raises, not just a favored few.

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Letter from Local 100 to Mayor Nagin

May 16, 2002

Mayor Ray Nagin
City Hall
New Orleans

Our union, Local 100 of the Service Employees International Union, has the honor and responsibility of representing more than 2000 classified New Orleans city workers.

We were shocked at the level of the proposed raises for only eight (8) positions at the management level of city government, which were projected to cost more than $420,000, and the rapidity of their adoption. Please understand. We are not opposed to raises in principle - quite the opposite! Please also understand that we applaud your effectiveness in getting these raises done. We were concerned though at the apparent insensitivity in proposing such mammoth increases without any recognition of the dire straits in which all our public servants are doing their jobs.

Spending that same $420000 would raise 210 city workers from the federal minimum wage up to at least the new level of $6.15 that has been voted on by the citizens for private sector workers. This would mean desperately needed raises for your employees like the pages at the Library, clerks in the Health Department, center attendants at the Recreation Department, grass cutters in Parks and Parkway, crossing guards at the intersections that protect the school children every day, as well as of course the parking attendants and custodians right here at City Hall. The percentage increases involved are lower than all but one that you proposed today.

Spending the same $420000 would raise more than 100 city workers from their current level up to $8.50 per hour the wage set by the federal Bureau of Labor Standards, which defines the ability to rise out of poverty for a family. Such an increase would mean raises for registered nurses and nurse technicians at the Health Department, for associates at the Library, for brake tag workers at Safety and Permits, for parking control officers in Streets, and for a dozen different job classifications in Public Works. The maximum percentage increase would still be lower than all but two of the increases you proposed today.

How would you suggest we explain to city workers in the Public Works Department for example that they can make minimum wage and certainly less than poverty wages, but the new director of their department can get a 75% increase? What kind of message do these increases send to the civil servants that are the muscle and brains of city government, day after day, year after year?

Your spokesman Mayor Nagin indicated that none of these increases should have come as a “surprise,” because “this is something the mayor campaign on….” Well, Mayor Nagin, you campaigned on a raise for all city workers and repeatedly told us that you understood that wages for all city workers were too low. We are listening now, but we are not hearing about the masses of underpaid city workers compared to these select few. We have written you asking for a meeting to discuss this, but are still waiting for an answer.

There has been discussion about a Committee to study pay raises for city workers, but nothing has been done. There has been discussion about finally being honest with ourselves and identifying exactly how many workers are paid below these atrocious wages and finally doing something about it - setting some floors that speak to the workers and the citizens about the need for living wages for public service - but nothing has been done. No one, Mr. Mayor, is paid “competitively” in city government, which is why we are forced to focus on survival, rather than market wages.

We need some leadership on these issues for the many, not just for the chosen few. City workers in New Orleans are not here today and gone tomorrow. City workers are not just writing resumes and seeing what’s it’s like to work for the city for 4 or 8 years, but are committed to the long haul and are the people making it all work. We can not fall into a position where when we talk about ending poverty wages for City workers we hear about committees, budgets, and everything else under the sun, but for a couple of favored few it seems like the sky is the limit and money is growing on trees. Mr. Mayor, we need your support and leadership on this issue, and we need it now!

We all want to support you as our new mayor along with your new administration, but we need fairness and equity, and we believe the Council and the Mayor need to move city workers up to the top of the line, rather than pushing them to the back one more time. Mayor Nagin please join us and in raising the floor for city workers and insuring that all city workers need a raise.

We look forward to working with you on this critical project.

Sincerely,

Wade Rathke
Chief Organizer cc: New Orleans City Council