Letter: Local 1, Board of Supervisor Pay Raise A Bad Decision and Self-Serving


opinionWhen news first broke last week, many seemed to be rightfully angry at, and felt completely disenfranchised by, the Contra Costa County Supervisors’ vote for a 33% pay increase for themselves. However, some of that initial anger and engagement seem to be dissipating already, which is precisely what the supervisors are hoping for.

What will work in their favor, and work to encourage similar self-enriching decisions in the future is for the community and the voting constituency to forget and/or lessen their engagement after a week or two.

What many people I heard over the weekend are saying—and this seems to be somewhat reflected in the comments posted on your site—is that this is a political party thing: it’s those Liberal Democrats or it’s those Greedy Republicans who want austerity for everyone but themselves…or else it’s become an issue about unions.

All of those are distractions. This issue is not about political parties or political affiliations. The Board of Supervisors are actually very well mixed in terms of their political party identification. And certainly, this issue should not be cast as a union thing.

While unions who represent the hard-working county employees are very vocal and leading the charge against this raise, it is an issue and a decision that will affect every tax paying citizen in Contra Costa County, whether Republican, Democrat or independent. It will affect very citizen in Contra Costa County, whether unionized or not, whether working in the private sector or the public sector.

What’s at hand—the true issue upon which to focus—is bad decision making and self-serving votes by elected officials. Nothing else matters.

The supervisors can claim it’s “leadership” or that they’re “putting this matter out of their own hands” all they want, the end result is it will be a 33% increase for them. They will all take home an additional $32,000 a year come January of 2015. And they are doing this at a time when they’ve been pleading poverty for five, six, seven years; they are doing this at a time when they’ve told their county workers that we all must share in the sacrifice when times are tight; they are doing this at a time when they won’t allow their employees to use the same counties for salary studies that the supervisors choose to use to enrich themselves. Most importantly, they are doing this at a time when, just as the economy is picking up again, they place themselves at the front of the line before their employees.

I don’t know what you want to call that kind of mentality and that kind of decision making, but it’s certainly not leadership.

Leaders don’t look to enhance themselves first before their lowest-paid employees. The Supervisors make, currently, $97,500. The County has employees who make $9 an hour. In fact, the County has many workers in classifications who are making an annual salary that is less than both the federal poverty level as well as the Contra Costa Self-Sufficiency Threshold.

Just a few short months ago, all five supervisors applauded Rise Together, an organization whose singular goal, according to their website, is “to cut poverty [in the bay area] in half by 2020” because “1 in 5 bay area residents living in poverty is unacceptable.” This organization was before the Board of Supervisors at one of their meetings.

All five supervisors could not stop gushing about how passionately they believed in this cause. In fact, Supervisor John Gioia is currently listed by Rise Together as a sitting member of their Steering Council.

Given their recent, enamored rhetoric about seriously doing something to uplift bay area residents in distress out of poverty, it is highly unprofessional, highly disrespectful, and completely unbecoming of elected leaders to choose to enrich themselves first and foremost.

East County Today published an editorial that tried to put the supervisors’ pay increase into perspective. It listed the salaries of some county employees. Some of the readers then said, “oh, this makes me less angry,” or “I didn’t know county employees made that much money.”

This is very problematic because, for starters, the list of salaries East County Today posted are for directors and managers. They are the most highly paid employees in the county. What East County Today didn’t post—and subsequently, what readers and constituents didn’t see—are the salaries of the majority of the rank-and-file workers who daily provide the excellent services all of us depend on and enjoy.

Public Employees Union, Local #1 has a spreadsheet of classifications of county employees that we represent (and this is only from our membership, not including the classifications of workers other unions may represent in the county) down a left hand column. And then, to the right of those classifications, we have three additional columns under the headings: Federal Poverty Line, Contra Costa Poverty Threshold, and Contra Costa Self-Sufficiency Threshold.

On a quick skim, of the roughly 330+ classifications Local #1 represents, there are 290 or so that fall squarely under those thresholds. That is a mind-blowing 87% of classifications of county employees that are paid a salary or wages that fall below, or within, federal poverty line, county poverty threshold, and county self-sufficiency threshold.

How does a group of elected leaders say it’s not about self-enrichment, that it’s about leadership, when they vote themselves a 33% raise—in one fell swoop—when 87% of their county workers are paid poverty, or near-poverty wages to the point of falling into one of those three categories?

And these supervisors dared to say from the dais last week that they have said numerous times they are committed to bringing their workers’ salaries up to comparable standards with other counties. They have to bridge a 16% to 38% gap with nearly all of their employees. How will they do that? What is their plan? Simply saying they are committed to it is empty lip service. And if they are truly committed to that goal, when will they do it? At the next round of bargaining? Starting with the health care reopener this upcoming spring?

But here’s the simplest, most revealing question: if they do try to bring their employees’ salaries to comparable levels, will they do it at 16% or 38% or any percentage in between—IN ONE FELL SWOOP—like they granted for themselves?

The issue at hand is about bad leadership making bad decisions, nothing more, nothing less. I encourage the angry to stay angry, the engaged to stay engaged, and the distracted to refocus on the actual issue.

Phil Hu
Assistant General Manager
Public Employees Union, Local 1


  1. PEU Local #1 (aka Phil),

    Apparently full disclosure which offered a better perspective on this issue has upset your little rage rally. I cannot fault ECT for providing more details and actually comparing “apples to apples”.
    Thanks for pointing out your union allegiance which often results in blindness. Yours is a textbook example.
    I’m sure in your role you are under the gun to do everything you can to level the playing field, however in the real world (public and private) pay stratification and structure will always exist between “rank and file” and management positions.
    Each and everyone of your arguments can be put to rest by applying the details you conveniently omitted and ECT pointed out.
    Thank you ECT for giving us perspective that is sorely lacking in today’s journalism.

  2. More fun and games in ccc.

    So the bos says they need more $$ because dept heads make more than they do. For that to even be a remotely legit argument you have have to accept that the dept heads are compensated correctly. By my observation it is highly likely the dept heads used in the justification are overpaid. In fact I would bet if you got rid of a significant percent of the ccc ‘dept heads’ typical fully functional tax payers would have no idea and could care less.

    Heck maybe the bos could justify a pay hike if they ‘earned’ it by cleaning house and downsizing the overall county payroll/head count.

    In my opinion every government entity is either fat with headcount or not even necessary. Pick a number ….. lets say a 20% reduction, take that from the general county overhead and use part of it for public safety (police, first responder, etc) where there is a real chance of benefitting the greatest number of tax payers (then give the rest back to the tax payers). Ya, I know lovers of the status quo will say can’t can’t can’t. I don’t happen to live in a can’t world and I’m sorry for those that do.

    Another way to look at this (if you think the bos should even be a full time job – and I don’t) is what would these folks be worth in the private sector. The bos people I am familiar with would be hard pressed to earn near $100K if they had to work in a business that had to turn a profit. Maybe one or two could land a decent private sector job and ‘earn’ an income near what they are seeking but not all of them. If they were smart they would keep their heads down, continue to stroke the special interests and hope to stay in office riding the gravy train as long as possible.

    • jb, from you post it’s clear you have no idea or experience that is relevant to the issue. At least your posts and opinions are consistent.

  3. The problem I see is that the publically paid supervisors have a problem with the hop scotch greed mentality.This disease is found in the entire list provided on this website that shows examples of inflated salaries. When another department or other agency makes more it’s time to cry that the salary does not match so and so in that other agency or department. We should get a raise.This hop scotch greed will play as long as they can get away with it. It happens with city managers, fire, police, nurses, and many more.

    Those salaries that have an elected seat become very attractive for people wanting the money instead of working for the people. The cycle continues without realizing the original intent of an elected office. The public gets the wrong kind of person in office as a result. This is what we have here now in contra costa county. It should be made public the name of the supervisor who instigated this foolish proposal that demoralizes all the other county employees with this insult. We should have a right to know so we can act accordingly. These types of persons are very destructive to democracy.

    For the first comment IDK. You obviously have an intimacy with ECT and the Supervisors as there is no justification anywhere anytime for a one time 33% salary increase in the public sector. These supervisors have averaged 10% annual increase this last ten years.That is really self-serving. They need to be voted out.

  4. @In ‘Da Know:

    LOL! If you work for East County Today or for a Supervisor, just say so. Don’t hide behind that anonymous keyboard!

    Apples to apples…yes, indeed…Contra Costa County employees, in comparison, are being paid 16% or 38% less than other counties. That’s pretty apples to apples, isn’t it? Where is their 33% raise in one fell swoop?

    And did you miss the fact that there are also a ton of county employees who are paid in the federal poverty line or in the contra costa poverty threshold range. Did you miss that? Or do you just not care?

    • @Phil,

      In Da Know does not work for ECT. I guarantee it.Unsure about what he/she does for a living.

  5. @In ‘Da Know:

    Union member? Hahaha!! Doubtful. But keep trying to convince people of that. LOL!

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