San Antonio: Union vows to seek retroactive wages and benefits from city

Express-News: Carlos Guerra
Guerra: Union vows to seek retroactive wages and benefits from city

San Antonio Express-News

Web Posted : 09/02/2001


This might be the Labor Day that hundreds - if not thousands - of city workers will remember as the day they learned about their windfalls.

I reported Tuesday some startling findings that Local 100 of the Service Employees International Union made about city workers.

Last year, Communities Organized for Public Service and Metro Alliance celebrated a major victory when the 2001 budget supposedly guaranteed all city workers an $8.25 hourly living wage.

But Karen A. Bahow, the union's local director, revealed that 2,541 city workers are still paid only $6.25 per hour and 1,401 make between $6.26 and $8.25.

Most of those paid less than $8.25 don't get paid vacations and holidays or health care and other benefits, because they are classified as "temporary" workers - though most have worked 40-hour weeks for more than a year.

Thursday, I reported that City Manager Terry Brechtel disputed the union, saying they inflated the number of underpaid workers. But she conceded that not all city workers earn the $8.25 minimum because the living-wage provision applied only to "full-time and part-time employees" and not to temporary or seasonal employees.

Brechtel denied that all temporary workers earn $6.25, explaining that the city's accounting system lists all temps as earning that rate even though many are paid more.

Former City Manager Alex Briseño wrote to me Friday to say: "My intent always was that ALL employees (his emphasis) would be paid above $8.25/hr. Indeed, this was clearly stated in my budget presentation to the City Council and is documented in the transmittal letter and executive summary of both the Proposed and the Adopted Budgets for FY 2001.

"Apparently, there's been some administrative confusion about the way this is being implemented," Briseño wrote, adding: "I visited with City Manager Terry Brechtel and she told me she's working on a plan to correct the problem. I'm confident she'll fix it."

Brechtel confirmed Saturday that she is working on a fix, saying: "I'm meeting Monday with staff to start working on changing the 'temporary' classification."

The proposed budget will raise the living wage to $8.50, she said.

Pressed on whether literally all city workers would be paid $8.50 or more, Brechtel confirmed that all city workers will be paid that minimum "as of Oct. 1."

The union's chief organizer, Wade Rathke said: "We salute any effort to bring these people up to the living wage."

But the organizer made it clear that the union will seek more for city workers than assurances that the living wage promised to all will really be paid to all.

He also cited the city's Municipal Civil Service Rules and an "Administrative Directive on Temporary Workers" dated June 9, 1980, that limits temporary employment by the city to 90
days.

Many temporary city employees have worked for years but are still classified as temporary.

"Attention must be paid to the fact that these people are owed back money and back benefits," Rathke said, adding that the union will seek retroactive pay for those paid less than $8.25 since last October and retroactive pay and benefits for those who have been classified as temporary longer than the rules allow.

"We would like to negotiate this as quickly and as reasonably as possible," Rathke said, "but we are going to start taking affidavits from workers next week. We're talking millions and millions."

To leave a message for Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail cguerra@express-news.net