Members of big L.A. public union have too had raises; Times is wrong

Members of big L.A. public union have too had raises; Times is wrong

seiu_agreement_faq_smallWhenever you see a story about a public employee union seeking an across-the-board raise because members “haven’t had a raise” for X number of years, feel free to groan. You’re almost always witnessing union spin filtered through journalistic incompetence. We have a fresh example in the Los Angeles Times. The headline says members of SEIU 721 haven’t had a raise in five years. The story quotes without context a union official as saying the same thing:

“‘We want the county to come to the table and really negotiate with us,’ said David Green, treasurer of SEIU 721, which represents 55,000 county employees. ‘The offer they put forward would essentially be a pay cut for our workers, who haven’t had any salary increase in more than five years.'”

But the expiring SEIU contract is typical of public employee contracts. It includes five levels of “step” pay which provide for automatic annual pay increases just for showing up. Yes, most SEIU workers appear to be at the top step. But it’s ridiculous that LAT reporter Seema Mehta in a lengthy article doesn’t even mention “step” raises and how they affect public employee pay.

‘Many state employees have received raises all along’

Jon Ortiz of the Sacramento Bee is way better than most reporters in providing “step” pay context. Here’s part of a piece he did in June deconstructing the argument that pay raises granted by Gov. Jerry Brown to 95,000 state employees who belong to SEIU Local 1000 were the first raises the workers had gotten in years:

“Many state employees have received raises all along. California state workers receive ‘merit salary adjustments’ when they join state service or get promoted. The step raises generally increase pay by 5 percent annually and top out after five years.

“Estimates of how many employees are below the top step range from 20 percent to 44 percent. And for most of those topped out, a sixth step kicks in July 1. It’s 3 percent for SEIU workers. …

“Step raises cost untold millions of dollars. From fiscal 2005-06 through fiscal 2010-11, state workers’ step increases cost $602 million before accounting for inflation … .

“During the sunny days of fiscal 2005-06, the state paid $72.3 million for the automatic increases. By the Great Recession of 2008-09, step-raise costs had mushroomed to $124.9 million, then slid down to $111.8 million the following year.”

The wondrous California media strike again

Good for the Bee for offering an explainer of the “step” pay basics. Every article about government employee pay should mention “step” increases — and every article about teacher pay should mention “step” and “column” increases. “Column” increases are granted for the accumulation of meaningless graduate coursework that doesn’t even have to be on the subject a teacher teaches.

What? Never heard of “column” increases? The wondrous California media strike again.


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  1. S Moderation Douglas
    S Moderation Douglas 30 September, 2013, 13:55


    You could realistically say that new workers are hired in at reduced pay until they pass probation and gain experience. In that case, step increases SAVED the state $125 million in 2008.

    When I was promoted to my last position, I had two step raises, not five. That was over thirty years ago. I have seen several new hires who got no step raises because they were hired in at the top step, due to previous experience.

    Seema Mehta didn’t mention step raises because they are a non story.

    Reply this comment
  2. BillyBS
    BillyBS 30 September, 2013, 14:37

    Blah blah, so clueless as to be a danger to fellow citizens. What a dunce.

    Reply this comment
  3. Chris Reed
    Chris Reed 30 September, 2013, 21:41

    So funny to see public employees or former public employees pretend “step” pay hikes are a “non story.” It’s why so many school districts spend 85 percent plus of their operating budgets on compensation, way more than in the 1980s. Why? Step increases usually given to teachers for 15 of their first 20 years on the job.

    Reply this comment
  4. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 1 October, 2013, 07:51

    Step raises are built into the respective pay ranges to reward the employee who does a good job and stays with the employer. When the pundits say there were no raises, they are talking about general across-the-board cost of living increases that help workers keep their heads above water. The workers that are being forgotten in the municipal sector are the part-timers. The ones who work at my former workplace have not gotten step raises in several years–some have never been moved beyond Step A, because all of the raises, that being granted, are going to Management.

    Reply this comment
  5. S Moderation Douglas
    S Moderation Douglas 1 October, 2013, 08:22

    Eliminate all the steps. Start them all off at full pay. Problem solved.

    You’re welcome.

    Reply this comment
  6. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 1 October, 2013, 08:49

    Step raises are usually given in five increments and, in the past, it took three and one-half years to reach the final step. A 15-step range, for municipalities, in my knowledge, provides for smaller increases at each step, than the normal five-step range. Some part-time ranges contain only one step. Part-timers are the forgotten workers in municipal government, just like how it also is now for private-sector bank employees.

    When my spouse was smoking in the 50’s and 60’s, a carton of Lucky Strike cost $2.15–now the same is $60/carton. A roll of Scott, 1000, toilet tissue could be bought for a nickel–now the same roll is almost a dollar. Imagine how all those raises in the public and private work sectors could have been saved if the cost of living had stood in place.

    Reply this comment
    • S Moderation Douglas
      S Moderation Douglas 1 October, 2013, 10:25

      If all I ever got were step raises, I would be making about $850 a month now.

      A teacher, starting out when I did in 1973, even with 20 step raises, would be making little more than that.

      That WOULD save the state a lot of money, though.

      Actually, I think Chis may have a point. A “step raise” is an actual raise, based on increased skill, education, and experience.

      A “COLA” is not a raise at all. It is merely an adjustment of salary to correct for diminished value of the dollar. Otherwise we’d all still be making $1 an hour, like I did in 1965.

      But, semantics aside, “step raises” is still:

      A non story.

      And the glass is still at least half full.

      Reply this comment
  7. Rex the Wonderdog!
    Rex the Wonderdog! 1 October, 2013, 11:19

    SeeSaw says:
    October 1, 2013 at 7:51 am
    Step raises are built into the respective pay ranges to reward the employee who does a good job and stays with the employer.
    Oh seesaw, ….you sure do make me laugh 😉

    Reply this comment

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