Retirees: This article may be news to the UT but not to Retirees who attended the January REA meeting heard Michael Zucchet, MEA General Manager describe this situation first hand. And they had the opportunity to ask follow up questions. And this article covers something that retirees have been aware of for years. We saw it coming; tried to warn the perpetrators of Prop B, to no avail. They were too busy counting the “projected”cost saving, much like gamblers at the Crap tables in Vegas betting on the “come line.” And like other gamblers they have not yet tallied their losses.

Those of us who spent our careers with the City of San Diego are well aware of the difficulties in recruiting and retaining top candidates. Competition between public agencies is keen and the private sector is also in the market for those with degrees in key fields and with experience in city processes and requirements. Salaries and benefits are of course important in recruiting but the reputation of the employer is also a critical factor. Does the employer value the employees, and do they defend them when they are denigrated by others? And what are the future prospects? Speaking of the future, what about pension plans? Other public agencies have defined benefit pension plans. San Diego, under Prop B, has a 401(k) and does not participate in Social Security.

Retirees still have strong ties to the City, old loyalties die hard, and lines of communication with active employees are maintained. So, we have been aware of the current difficulties in keeping top people and hiring replacements. The attached article includes a quote:

An analysis last year by former City Auditor Eduardo Luna concluded that employee retention problems put the city at risk for low staff morale, weak institutional knowledge and higher costs to train replacement workers.
Few would argue with Luna on that statement, and retirees would likely add to the above the obvious; a lower level of service to the public. But another comment in the article, is worthy of examination; (we can’t just say) ‘Here’s more money’ when there’s somebody sitting there not doing their job and we can’t do anything about it.

The implication that city employees are not doing their job warrants a review of Luna’s audit. From a supervisor’s point of view, looking at a city staff of 10,000 and a vacancy of 2,000 plus or minus, it may be beneficial to train and counsel closely those who need improvement. If you are already losing staff and having difficulty recruiting, terminating that employee would not be your first choice. This individual did pass exams, and interviews and was selected from a number of candidates. What is needed to pick up the pace.

The another statement, that the employees are “not doing their job and we can’t do anything about it.” is simply misinformed. Employees who do not perform and do not respond to corrective measures can be terminated. It is not as simple as saying “you’re fired” but with documentation, and a hearing at which the employee can have representation, employees can and have been fired.

Of the remedies to the recruitment and retention problems the City is experiencing, increasing salaries is the quickest and simplest. Restoration of reputation as a top level employer will take more time and serious effort.

Joe Flynn, Retiree


Original article from San Diego Union Tribute

S.D. city workers at bottom of county salaries
Low wages blamed for thousands of vacant positions
By David Garrick

San Diego pays its city employees an average of 30 percent less than other local cities for doing the same jobs, which has created a staffing crisis where thousands of vacant positions can’t be filled and hundreds of workers are fleeing to other cities.
Some San Diego officials recently said the problem must be addressed quickly with big pay raises, while others said they won’t support salary hikes unless they are combined with performance incentives and greater latitude to discipline unproductive workers.
Labor leaders say the problem is so severe that it has begun compromising morale, decreasing ingenuity and slowing down key projects such as undergrounding of utility lines and construction of the city’s $4 billion water recycling system.
“We are not at the top of San Diego County and we’re not at the average — we’re literally at the bottom,” said Michael Zucchet, leader of the largest labor union representing city workers.
“We are experiencing an operations crisis,” said Zucchet, general manager of the 5,000-member Municipal Employees Association. “When people leave for other cities and other places, there’s nobody there behind them to fill their jobs.”
An analysis last year by former City Auditor Eduardo Luna concluded that employee retention problems put the city at risk for low staff morale, weak institutional knowledge and higher costs to train replacement workers.
Other concerns raised by city officials are a greater need to hire expensive outside consultants, and inexperienced employees increasing the risk of litigation against the city.
Zucchet said city leaders must decide whether they want their employees to be among the highest paid in the region or in the middle, or to remain at the bottom.
Councilwoman Barbara Bry agreed.
“This is a long-term conversation about what kind of city we want to be,” Bry said during a recent hearing. “What level of services do our community members want? What are they willing to pay for? What are our priorities?”
Bry says it would cost San Diego roughly $200 million per year to boost salaries high enough to solve the problem, but the city is facing projected budget deficits in coming years that will require cuts, not increases in spending.
Councilman Chris Ward, despite the projected deficits, says solving the problem needs to be a priority.
“We want to make sure we’re keeping the best and the brightest here working for the city of San Diego and that we’re not losing much of that talent,” Ward said.
“It is time to make a significant investment in city staff to ensure that San Diego’s compensation is commensurate with equivalent positions in the region, align with our expectations of strong public sector performance, and improve the city’s ability to hire and retain talented staff,” Ward wrote in a budget memo last week.
Councilmen Scott Sherman and Mark Kersey, two of the three Republicans on the Democrat-dominated nine-member council, say the city needs to be cautious in its approach.
Sherman said the threat of a recession, which could severely shrink city tax revenues, makes doling out large raises risky.
“It’s very difficult to say, ‘Here’s a pay increase guaranteed every year for five years going forward’ when we don’t know what our growth is going to be and we have serious storm clouds on the horizon,” Sherman said.
He also suggested that other cities and even businesses in the private sector are experiencing similar problems filling jobs and finding quality workers.
“I agree we are in a staffing crisis,” Sherman said. “But it’s everywhere now because the economy is good.”
Sherman also expressed concern about granting large pay raises in the wake of the city auditor’s analysis, which showed San Diego doesn’t discipline poorly performing workers aggressively enough.
“We can’t just keep saying, ‘Here’s more money’ when there’s somebody sitting there not doing their job and we can’t do anything about it,” Sherman said.
Kersey said he’d like to see the city explore incentives for high performers and punitive measures for low performers before San Diego gives out massive, across-the-board raises.
“There should be some way of differentiating between the ones who are doing a great job and the ones who are not doing as good of a job,” Kersey said.
“Keeping up with cost of living is obviously important, but we should be able to pay better people for doing better work. To me that’s just a fundamental principle of being an employer.”
Kersey also noted that some cities, such as Carlsbad, give raises based partly on performance.
“Some public agencies do that, including some here in the county, so we would not be trailblazers in the regard,” he said.
In the absence of an overall solution, San Diego officials have tried to solve the problem for individual positions where retention and recruitment have been the most difficult.
During the last two years, the city has given pay hikes of about 25 percent to fire and police dispatchers and raises of up to 30 percent to police officers.
Zucchet, the labor leader, praised those moves, but said a targeted approach won’t be enough moving forward because the salary gap problem has become so widespread.
All city employees got 3.3 percent pay raises last July and are scheduled for additional raises of the same size this July. But, Zucchet said, those hikes only keep the gap from widening further, because other cities also typically give similar sized annual increases.
And before the raises last July, San Diego employees had not received any pay raises since 2012 because of a five-year salary freeze that was mandated by a voter-approved ballot measure, Proposition B.
A city salary survey in 2015 says San Diego park rangers make 28 percent less than median salary for that job in the region. For parking enforcement agent, the gap is 27.6 percent. For assistant property agent, it’s 39.1 percent.
Zucchet said things have only gotten worse since then primarily because of the salary freeze, which has dropped pay for San Diego city workers from middle of the pack in most types of jobs down to the very bottom in nearly every single job category.
Zucchet said a web search at government shows that Chula Vista, Oceanside and every other city in the region pays more than San Diego for every single type of job.
“You will not be able to find one position in one jurisdiction in this county where the salary that’s being offered is not above the city of San Diego,” he said. “And in most cases, it is significantly above.”
In addition, San Diego is the only city in the region not to provide pensions to new employees, which puts the city at a competitive disadvantage when hiring and retaining workers.
New police officers in San Diego still get pensions, but all other San Diego employees hired since mid-2012 get a 401(k)-style retirement plan instead of a pension.
Some critics of pensions stress that they have become quite rare in the private sector. But private sector positions come with Social Security, which the city of San Diego doesn’t provide.
“It’s very unusual to have no Social Security and no pension,” Zucchet said. “In fact, that’s unheard of.”
Because of the pay gap and the lack of pensions, the number of city employees quitting their jobs in 2016 was higher than the number of city employees who retired — the first time that had happened.
Employees departing the city frequently cite compensation as their primary reason.
“Let it be clear that I did not leave the city of San Diego because of any bad working relationship between my former co-workers and supervisor,” code enforcement officer James Bray said in an email last summer.
“I did not leave because the work was too stressful, or I felt overworked or slighted in any way,” Bray said. “It came down to some very basic reasons, such as more money, a pension not a 401(k), and more money.”
Aquatics supervisor Ariell Folks offered similar sentiments.
“I thoroughly enjoyed working for the city of San Diego and had no intention of leaving until learning about the drastic pay difference between cities for the same position,” Folks wrote to city officials. “The difference was so large that even if I (were) promoted to a higher level in San Diego than what I am now in Chula Vista, I would still suffer a pay and benefits cut.”
And land survey assistant Daniel Collins said he took a lower level position with the state Department of Transportation because it pays more.
“The city has some of the most dedicated and enthusiastic surveyors I have ever worked with,” he wrote. “I could easily see myself spending my entire career here, but the lack of adequate compensation makes that future untenable.”

[email protected] (619) 269-8906 Twitter:@UTDavidGarrick