Politics & Government

Tacoma City Council mulling pay raises for some workers

The city of Tacoma’s nonunion workforce could see its first general pay increase in five years if the City Council approves a proposal Tuesday.

The plan, which would cost about $2.8 million across the city’s $2.7 billion two-year budget, would make most non-represented employees eligible for raises of up to 3 percent. Most would also receive a one-time, lump-sum payment equal to 1 percent of his or her salary, said City Manager T.C. Broadnax.

Broadnax said the wage proposal brings the 837 non-represented employees in general-government departments and Tacoma Public Utilities closer to the pay of similar jobs at other public and private organizations. It also would keep nonunion employees from “falling further behind” their unionized colleagues.

Since 2009, nonunion workers have received no raises, except for the step increases given to new employees in their first few years with the city. Meanwhile, the city’s 20-plus unions have bargained wage increases that averaged 13 percent over that period, according to information supplied by the city.

“We can’t, in my opinion, continue to ignore 800 employees in our organization and just assume they are always going to answer the call and be there for us,” Broadnax said. He would not benefit from the proposal since his $221,000 salary — up for review next month — is set by the council.

The proposal’s costs to general-government accounts would be $1.2 million, of which $477,000 would come from the city’s general fund. The cost to TPU would be $1.6 million. City officials say they have enough money in the current budget to pay for the raises.

Under the proposal, increases in base pay would be awarded based on whether an non-represented employee’s salary is judged “below market” and how far below:

 • Nonunion workers whose pay is 3 percent or more below market would receive the maximum 3 percent bump in their base salaries plus the 1 percent lump-sum amount.

 • Those whose salaries are below market by less than 3 percent would receive a commensurate pay increase plus the lump-sum bump.

 • Employees who are paid above market will receive no increase, other than the one-time bonus.

The city is using data from 2012 to gauge the market salary for each job classification. The City Council has adopted a policy of trying to pay city employees better than about 60 percent of public and private employees doing similar work.

For bosses who face “compression issues” — when a top manager receives less pay than his or her subordinates — the city would give a flat 4 percent wage increase. Those employees would not receive the one-time bonuses.

TPU director Bill Gaines called the proposal, should it pass, “a very welcome step in the right direction by the council.” But about two-thirds of the 429 nonunion employees at TPU would continue to be paid less than the city’s stated goal for salaries, he said.

Gaines would receive $9,300 increase on top of his $310,000 salary under the proposal. Having worked for utilities for 35 years — the last 10 years in the public sector — he lamented the “political” nature of pay raises in a public agency.

“The setting of pay (in the private sector) was much more pragmatic, much less political,” he said. “Most organizations in our industry have a compensation system in place that is stable over the long term.”

Two additional bargaining units have formed at TPU during the time nonunion employee wages have been frozen, Gaines said.

Last year, the City Council turned down a proposal to increase non-union employee wages at TPU. The raises proposed at the time ranged from 5 percent to 20 percent, and some managers’ pay would have increased by tens of thousands of dollars.