Union Wants Higher Salaries

Express-News: Metro and State
Union wants higher salaries
By William Pack
San Antonio Express-News

Web Posted : 08/24/2001

A city employees' union said Thursday that the city's commitment to pay a "living wage" has not gone far enough to compensate employees for years of underpayment.

Hector Villanueva, a solid waste department employee for the last five years, joined other members of the Service Employees International Union Local 100 in a demonstration on the steps of City Hall demanding that the upcoming budget include higher salaries for employees.

He recognized that the city has recommended at least a 3 percent raise for everyone other than department heads and executive level supervisors, but Villanueva said he felt the city could do "a little bit better."

Karen Bahow, a Local 100 representative, said union studies show that the average wages San Antonio pays its workers are among the lowest among large cities in Texas.

"We've got a lot to make up," she said.

The demands should enliven a budget season that has only just begun.

Last week, City Manager Terry Brechtel proposed a $1.4 billion consolidated annual budget and a $599.9 million general fund budget that would increase the basic "living wage" paid to about 1,500 city employees by 25 cents an hour to $8.50 an hour.

In all, $5.7 million more is budgeted for raises in the proposed budget, which includes a 3 percent raise for non-executive team members and a 2 percent raise for those on the executive team.

Raises for police and firefighters, who are covered by separate collective bargaining agreements, are not included in that total.

The union contends that the city should not have any trouble finding money for more raises. By the union's count, the city has more than $80 million in surplus money available after systematically underestimating revenues and overestimating expenditures for three years.

Brechtel said she was skeptical of those claims but wanted to meet with union officials to see how they developed their report.

Her budget includes a $23.7 million reserve fund, but that money is not dedicated to recurring expenses like salaries because reserves are needed to satisfy the demands of bond rating agencies.

Mayor Ed Garza said he felt the city had made "significant strides" in improving wage levels for employees.