Monday, September 7, 2015

The City's minimum wage debate

     A big part of my campaign for City Council is the advocacy for city employees and the lack of backing that they get from city government in general and the city manager's office in particular.  There are several areas this can cover but the most recent news making item passed by the council is the raising of the city minimum wage.  A proposal was made to raise the minimum wage for approximately 245 employees to $12 an hour with a goal of going to $15 an hour by 2020.  This includes employees with benefits.  Regular employees without benefits and seasonal employees will go to $10 an hour.  This passed by a vote of 7-2 with Councilman Tony Wilkins voting his consistent position of fiscal conservatism and appointed Councilman Outling still trying to convince us he is a "conservative liberal".  Other councilmen chimed in with their reasons for raising the minimum that "appear" to be in conflict with statistics or seem to be a tad confusing.
     It is an interesting topic to vote on one month before the primary election to be sure.  In an off year election where there are no state or national races to draw voters to the polls, was this a politically motivated topic for the incumbents to be able to point to as an accomplishment in a year where they took heat for continuing to throw good money after bad?  An advocate for the raise was District 2 candidate Thessa Pickett who is running against incumbent Jamal Fox.  Ms. Pickett was called down by City Manager Jim Westmoreland during her presentation from the podium and told that "campaigning was not allowed" in the council chambers.  Really?  Does that mean that none of the incumbents will point to this as a resume builder in support of their candidacy?
     How about Mr. Outling?  He was appointed (controversially) to finish out the term of Zack Matheny in a district who's demographics and politics do not fit his background.  Now he has become seemingly ultra conservative in his views on issues that he is actually allowed to vote on due to his employment with a law firm that handles city business.  At least in this case, unlike his opposition to handing more money to the museum, he was actually made to record a vote.  His reasons for voting against had to do with Greensboro's being "in a real fight for jobs" further stating that our community "needs economic development and it needs jobs".  I'm not sure what this has to do with the subject at hand?
     Jamal Fox revealed that while working briefly in the city's planning department and city manager's office he worked "alongside employees who had 3 or 4 jobs to make ends meet".  Alongside?  In those two departments?
     Of course the Hightowers and the Abuzuaiters of the council chimed in with their usual "follow the leader" support, citing employees on food stamps and setting examples for "other" employers.  There was Congresswoman Alma Adams holding a press conference before the meeting to offer her support using statistics from her 12th district to further the cause.  No specifics of these examples were presented as to the demographics, specifics or just who these folks are.  Political issue or in the best interests of the people as a whole?
     Almost immediately they outed themselves.  Oh my God what is Matt Brown going to think?  He'll be livid!  Presto, the coliseum worker exception is born.  They must not be as "impoverished" over there.  To my eyes this confirms that this is an election day propaganda grab designed to enhance the incumbents image during a time when their job performance could be called into question.  Many of these folks are pointing to the "poverty line" and the city employees living below it as their reasons for this action.  Are there city employees living below the poverty line?
     Many factors go into this issue for me; who are the employees with the city we are talking about?  Are they single?  Young?  Retired and working to stay busy?  In college and living with their parents?  Educated?  Specifically trained?  Does a 19 year old that still lives with his parents while he goes to school at night qualify for "poverty"?  What about Mr. Fox's assertion of employees he worked alongside in two departments in city management that were working "three or four jobs"?  Is that even possible for a full time city employee to do?  What were the specifics of their situation?  Kids?   Single or married?  Ages?  Education?  Irresponsible debt?  Without details this is only rhetoric.
     There are several folks in the country with a "living wage" calculation system.  I chose Dr. Amy Glasmeier's version.  Dr. Glasmeier works for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which seems to be a reputable school.  She defines "living wage" "as the hourly rate an individual must earn to support their family" and gives numbers for every county in the country.  For Guilford County the living wage for one adult is calculated at $10.33 an hour.  The poverty wage is $5.00 per hour.  For two adults living together and BOTH working the living wage is $8.41 an hour and the poverty wage is $3.00 per hour.  For one adult living with one child, $21.41 an hour living, $7.00 per hour poverty.  The demographics of the employee being discussed is important to get an idea based on these numbers if the assertion by some council members of employees "living below the poverty line" is accurate or politico speak.  By these numbers the position of 245 employees earning below the poverty line can be argued based on each one's particular situations.
     Is the raise in minimum wage fair to other thousands of city employees without a corresponding raise in their pay rate?  $8 to $12 an hour is a 33% pay raise.  The city is a merit based pay system relying on yearly supervisory job performance evaluations to determine pay raises.  The past 10 years or so a rating of "above standard" garnered an employee a raise of around 2.5%.  At this rate a city employee would have to achieve an above standard rating for over 13 years to reach 33%.  To be reasonable, a 33% per employee raise in one year is not an adjustment that is fiscally achievable.  How about raising everyone's pay $4 an hour?  More than likely not achievable either.  Is it fair for a long term, trained and hard working employee of the City of Greensboro to watch a minimum wage entry level employee or one that has not attained full time, benefited status to have their pay increased to match theirs?
     We have employees whose responsibilities are of such a specific nature that they are entrusted with the protection of legal documents, city property and items of confidentiality that deserve the $12 or so an hour they make and have earned it through the city's job performance evaluation system.  If the minimum rate is raised to $15 per hour then we are getting close to the pay scale for entry level firefighters and police officers.  I will wager that none of the 245 current workers or those who may apply in the future will be doing jobs that require that much training and risk.  8 of last 10 years of my career I was told that I could not have a raise though I had been rated above standard because I had "maxed out" for my position.  By getting the 33% up front are we telling these employees that there will be no more raises for 13 years?  What is their incentive to produce "above standard" work?
     If the living wage scale would have been applied in this instance and scrutiny over each of the 245 employees personal situations affected conducted, would this have been fair?  I have no problem with city employees earning more money.  However, simply to raise the salaries of 245 people 33% with no details as to why makes no sense.  The examples given by sitting council members are easily disputable, especially with their penchant to not offer any details to their decisions.  Do Matt Brown's employees have a beef?  What are the reasons for the coliseum exception?  There are lots of questions as to why?
     We just need someone to ask.    

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