San Antonio :
Most city salaries trail other metros

Express-News: Metro and State

Most city salaries trail other metros
By William Pack
San Antonio Express-News

Web Posted : 09/10/2001

Aside from the city manager, few city employees are drawing high-level salaries when compared to the top salaries paid in four other cities across the Southwest.

In addition, workers on the bottom end of the scale in San Antonio have more ground to make up than minimum-wage workers do in most of the other cities.

A San Antonio Express-News survey last week of city salaries in Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, San Diego and San Antonio shows that:

First-year City Manager Terry Brechtel earns one of the highest salaries in the Southwest. Her $200,000 salary was second only to the $263,027 salary paid to Dallas City Manager Teodoro Benavides among the five cities surveyed. Houston has no city manager, but its mayor, Lee P. Brown, earns $165,817.

Far fewer city executives in San Antonio make more than $100,000 when compared to other large regional cities. Twenty-two of San Antonio's 12,100 employees fall into the $100,000-plus club. More than five times that number earn more than $100,000 in Dallas' city government, which employs 13,500 people. Houston, with almost twice as many employees as San Antonio, had the second-fewest number of six-figure employees at 43.

The $6.25-an-hour wage paid to some temporary employees in San Antonio is the second-lowest rate paid in the five cities. Houston pays a $6-an-hour wage to 30 part-time employees. The other cities pay at least $8.24 an hour to employees, whether part time or full time.

The survey comes at a time when the city is establishing its spending plan for the 2002 fiscal year and employee unions are clamoring for bigger salary boosts.

"We would like to have a piece of the pie, also," Zeke Castillo, a Service Employees International Union Local 100 member, told the City Council during a public hearing on the budget.

Castillo, 61, said he earns $6.90 an hour after three years working as a temporary employee with the Parks and Recreation Department.
Mayor Ed Garza said the city has made "significant strides" to raise the prospects of its lowest-paid employees, but he still wants the salary levels to continue rising.

"It takes time, and we have to do it within the means of the budget," he said. "The city needs to be applauded, not criticized."

The temporary worker issue has, however, generated criticism for the city, which announced last year that it was raising its lowest wage level to $8.25 an hour. That was touted by the city as a "living wage," or one that would keep a family of four out of poverty.

Officials have been scrambling for a way to explain why that increase did not apply to all temporary city workers, those hired to fill in for permanent employees on leave or to handle overflow demand during peak seasons for the parks department, the solid waste division and other departments.

The starting wage for temporary workers is $6.25 an hour. Local 100 officials said too many people were being paid that rate, even after having worked for the city several years.

The union, using city data, claimed that more than 2,500 city employees were paid $6.25 this year. City officials said that number was unrealistically inflated by a glitch in the accounting system. A June 1 count shows that 1,686 temporary hires were on the city payroll and only 264 of them were paid $6.25 an hour.

The remainder earned more than that, some up to $30 an hour, officials said.

Brechtel said her staff is developing a plan to bring the wages of temporary employees up to $8.50 an hour, which is the living-wage standard set for city employees in 2002.

"If they're doing the job of a full-time employee, they should be making a living wage," Brechtel said.

The only employees who may be excluded from the living-wage guarantees are student interns and other temporary youth employees — "high school kids," as Brechtel said. No decision has been made on what salary to pay that employee subgroup, which could have as many as 200 people in it at various times, officials said.

Brechtel's proposed budget for 2002 already includes $5.7 million more to increase the living-wage standard and to provide other raises to non-uniformed personnel. The city manager also hopes to provide $3.7 million to department heads for merit raises among non-uniformed employees.

The budget proposes that all non-executive-team members will get a 3 percent raise or the $8.50 living wage, whichever is higher, while executive team members, or the city's leadership, will receive 2 percent raises. Another $3.7 million is carved out of the budget for merit raises.

Police and firefighters are covered by separate collective bargaining agreements. The police budget includes $5.9 million in raises in 2002. Firefighters are in the middle of negotiating a new contract with the city.

The closer the city gets to an $8.50-an-hour minimum wage, the more it will erase the minimum salary gap that exists with Dallas, Phoenix and San Diego.

Officials in Phoenix said that city's lowest paid position — a clerical trainee — draws $17,139 a year, or about $8.24 an hour. In San Diego, the lowest annual salary, $17,712, is paid to a recreation aide. That total equates to about $8.52 an hour.

An $8.50-an-hour wage would equate to $17,680 a year. If approved for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, it would mean that the lowest-paid full-time position in San Antonio would draw $5,040, or 43 percent, more than it did five years ago.

In Dallas, the city gave its employees a 10 percent across-the-board raise this year, which pushed the minimum full-time salary to $10 an hour. Part-time workers in Dallas make at least $8.80 an hour.

Only muted criticism has been directed at San Antonio's top-end salaries, including the $200,000 pay provided Brechtel after she accepted the post in March. Her salary is $23,535, or 13 percent, higher than what was paid to the previous city manager, Alex Briseño.

Mayor Garza said Briseño's salary was far too low and that an increase was required to make sure top candidates would seek and accept the job.

Communities Organized for Public Service and its sister organization Metro Alliance, the loudest proponents of a living wage, are intent on seeing temporary workers receive the $8.50-an-hour wage promised to other employees. But they have not objected to the six-figure salaries proposed.

"If they expect people to do a good job, they need to pay them decent wages," said Sister Gabriella Lohan, an alliance leader. "I can't say they pay too much at the upper end. I do know they pay too little at the lower end."

Brechtel said continued attention will be paid by her administration to lower paid employees because that's where the greatest need is. After four consecutive years of higher raises for the least paid, the city's average salary has surpassed $27,600, Brechtel said.

Local 100 Chief Organizer Wade Rathke acknowledged that the city has been trying to catch up on salaries after years of lagging behind. He said he hopes the city maintains an open dialogue with the union on salary issues because "there are still several ridges to cross to get where we need to be."