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St. Pete wage boost could be a pay cut for some

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman thought he was doing city workers a favor when he proposed a 3 percent, across-the-board pay raise for all city employees in his fiscal year 2016 budget.

It was more than unions for blue- and white-collar workers proposed for its more than 1,250 employees. Yet Kriseman still finds himself amid a wage dispute with the Florida Public Services Union.

That’s because under the mayor’s proposal, the highest wage increase the city has proposed in the past several years since the Great Recession, step increases will be eliminated. Those are pay raises employees receive each year that run about 2 percent or so a year. After an employee’s eighth year of employment they see a boost of anywhere from 9 to 14 percent.

According to The Tampa Tribune, Florida Public Services Union chief of staff Rick Smith said there are 50 city employees who stood to see a 13 percent pay boost next year. Under Kriseman’s wage increase, their pay would actually decrease 10 percent based on what they were expecting. Smith told The Tribune the step increases have been worked into their contracts for 36 years.

The city is currently negotiating with the union. According to the city’s HR director, Chris Guella, working out a compromise for those individuals who stand to lose out on expected step increases could be a good subject for negotiation. However, he also said the union needs to weigh whether ensuring a few maintain an increase would come at a detriment of the rest.

In the Tribune’s in-depth look at the city’s plan, it found St. Pete is attempting to shift the pay model to one more consistent with evolving city practices. Many localities have imposed merit-based increases to provide a more incentivized pay package.

Union leaders and city negotiators are meeting regularly to attempt to reach an agreement, but the lone sticking point seems to be the step increase.

The dispute between Kriseman and the union may come as something of a surprise. Kriseman has been a staunch advocate for employee benefits, including improving family leave policies to allow for paternal leave, among other things. He’s also increased wages for lower-level employees and plans to incorporate a $15 minimum wage for workers by 2020. Kriseman has also implemented a “ban the box” policy to ensure city applicants with a checkered past can get to an interview before having to disclose past criminal indiscretions.

Workers are expected to converge on City Council Thursday to plead with City Council over the issue. Council is set to take a final vote on the budget during that meeting.

City Council chair Charlie Gerdes told The Tampa Tribune if a deal is not reached by that vote the city will allow enough funding to cover the 3 percent raises and a buffer to adjust when a deal is reached.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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