posted June 10, 2007 at Charlotte.com:
"Lower-than-average salaries have sparked protest among Charlotte's maintenance, sanitation and utility workers this year, prompting a march at city hall and calls to the City Council for raises.
A 2006 city study showed that these employees get paid an average 12 percent less than their counterparts in private industry and other governments. And compared with all other city employees, their salaries are thousands of dollars behind."
City workers on the way to more pay?
Charlotte budget plan offers average 3.7% raise for all employees
posted June 10, 2007 at Charlotte.com
Leroy Sturdivant has worked for the city of Charlotte for six years. But the $13.50 he makes an hour emptying recycling bins has forced him to take on two other jobs to make ends meet.
"You can't make it off this here," Sturdivant, 49, said.
So after working eight or more hours for the city each workday, Sturdivant cleans offices for private companies and then dumps trash at a library. Most nights he gets to bed about midnight. But he makes at least an extra $1,000 a month.
Lower-than-average salaries have sparked protest among Charlotte's maintenance, sanitation and utility workers this year, prompting a march at city hall and calls to the City Council for raises.
A 2006 city study showed that these employees get paid an average 12 percent less than their counterparts in private industry and other governments. And compared with all other city employees, their salaries are thousands of dollars behind.
The council is set to vote on a $1.6 billion budget Monday night that would award an average 3.7 percent raise to all city employees. About 100 sanitation workers will get another boost that averages about $1,600, said Tim Mayes, Charlotte's human resources director.
The city says its benefits and retirement package for service maintenance workers is comparable to other cities. But in the past four or five years, they say, Charlotte's raises haven't kept pace.
"There has been a mindset about keeping costs down -- it's the taxpayers who are paying these salaries," Mayes said. "I think we are at a good solid place from a business management perspective. But we're suffering more pain in recruitment and retention."
In addition to budget tightening, high turnover and private industry competition have also kept some city salaries below average.In 2006, the sanitation department's turnover rate was about 24 percent, due in part to low salaries and exhausting work. With few people staying and getting promotions and raises, the average salary stagnates, Mayes said.
This lack of tenure also creates a gap with professional midlevel managers, who make about $65,000 compared with a sanitation worker's $26,000, he said.
Another contributing problem is that some of these departments bid against private companies to get jobs. Those that do it most efficiently get financially rewarded. But doing it successfully means keeping down operating costs, which includes salaries, Mayes said.
Keith Higgins, a sanitation supervisor, said turnover in his department is better. But it will continue to be a problem if salaries stay low.
"The city has a great retirement plan, I think. But a lot of people look at needing the money now than later," he said. "For the job they do, they do deserve to get paid more."
Higgins, who started as a yard waste collector, said there are programs available for workers with minimal education to improve their skills and graduate to higher positions. But many workers, at least in the sanitation department, don't participate because they can't read.
"We are trying to help them and give them opportunities to improve," Mayes said.
Making tough choices
Ravon Monti said she wants to get her GED so she can make more money monitoring and repairing water and sewer lines for the city's utilities department. She's worked for the city about seven years and still lives paycheck to paycheck, she said.
Making about $12 an hour, Monti takes home an average of $242 a week, she said. Her salary was especially a problem when her four children were still at home a few years ago. Once she had to seek help from Crisis Assistance Ministry when she got behind on rent and car payments, she said.
"When I told the woman I worked for the city, she looked at me like, `What are you doing here?' " Monti said. "She couldn't believe I worked for the city."
To save money now, she has decided to drop her benefits package and apply for Medicaid.
"I just can't afford it," she said.
Monti, 45, said there are chances to make more money by working overtime, "but then you are having to work all week long to bring home a decent paycheck," she said.
Like other cities across the region, Charlotte routinely studies and compares its pay and benefits. When looking at its pay for the service maintenance workers last year, the city spent about $200,000 to increase the pay of 177 of those employees. That brought them closer to what other employers are paying in the area.The city also combined services in the utility department, re-classified positions and gave 5 percent raises on top of merit increases. Still, the average pay for a utility crew member is $25,000.
Council members have said they want to discuss the pay issue further.
"This is disturbing to me," council member James Mitchell said. "We have not dove into this in enough detail."
This year's budget recommends spending $175,000 to boost the salaries of 105 sanitation workers as a way to retain them, Mayes said.
Struggling to pay well and keep employees is not unique to Charlotte.
About 10 years ago, the Virginia Beach City Council vowed its city would have the highest wages in the Hampton Roads area. Salaries, including the lowest, have been adjusted every few years to keep the promise, said Mary Hancock, a spokesman for the city, which is often compared to Charlotte in studies.
But this year local leaders are struggling as they try to keep property tax rates down.
The salaries of sanitation workers have been debated in Winston-Salem for years. In 2004, workers threatened to join a union.
The city recently bumped the pay of all low-paid city workers to at least $9 and increased the salaries of sanitation workers.
"Sanitation workers in particular know they provide a valuable service," said Martha Wheelock, an assistant city manager in Winston-Salem. "The challenge, of course, is for the level of skill they have, (their salary) is at the high end for what they're going to get in this area."
Chart | Charlotte salary comparison
Victoria Cherrie: 704-358-5062
To join or support the city workers see
NC Public Service Workers Union
UE Local 150