When 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.
Assistant General Manager
Public Employees Union, Local 1