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Friction Over Pay Grows in Pomona

October 03, 1985|PAT BRENNAN | Times Staff Writer

POMONA — The city's attempt to ease a budget crisis by refusing cost-of-living wage increases to general employees threatens to alienate workers from their bosses.

Most of the municipal managers are already scheduled to receive salary increases averaging 8%.

The city, which will enter nonbinding arbitration with about 340 nonmanagement or "general service" employees in coming weeks, has said that it will not approve cost-of-living raises this year as part of its effort to head off a $1.3-million budget deficit. Although some employees will still receive merit increases based on appraisals done by their supervisors.

While denying the cost-of living increases, however, the council has given tentative approval to a salary adjustment for management-level employees in what Mayor G. Stanton Selby characterized as a poorly timed but necessary conclusion to a process that began three years ago.

The adjustment would give 85% of the city's 116 management-level employees pay raises averaging 8%. The council postponed a vote on the issue Monday night and has not rescheduled the matter for action.

More Pressure

The general service employees, represented by the San Bernardino Public Employees Assn., which represents employees in 13 cities in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties, have picketed City Hall and threatened to step up pressure on the council either to freeze funds set aside for the management adjustment until negotiations are concluded or to divide the $310,000 adjustment allocation among all employees.

The city has given raises based on the cost-of-living index to all employees for the past several years, except in fiscal 1983-84, when management and general service employees voluntarily gave up the increase to prevent about 15 layoffs.

"We won't let it die this time," said one picket outside the Council Chambers on Monday.

"These are the very same employees who deliver the services directly to the citizen; the garbage collector, the fellow who cleans the streets, the guy that gets his hands dirty and the woman who sits at the typewriter eight hours a day with a backache," said Robert Elliot, general manager of the employees association.

'Should Come First'

"We take the position that the person delivering the service should come first," he added.

"I don't want any dissension between employee groups," Councilwoman Donna Smith said. "I just wish we had the money to give everybody a raise."

Elliot said there is increasing animosity between city employees and their managers. "I know there's a lot of resentment. I could feel it in the Council Chambers. This is not something that's going to blow away overnight."

The stepped up pressure could come in the form of a "blue flu" epidemic (during which healthy employees call in sick) or the hiring of an independent auditor to search for fat in the city budget, although budget officials insist there is none.

Elliot said general service employees are asking only that the city bargain in good faith, but the workers say that good faith can be demonstrated only by a cost-of-living raise that will bring their wages closer to those of workers holding comparable jobs in comparable cities. In separate studies of salaries conducted within the last two years in neighboring communities, both the city and the League of California Cities concluded that general service pay in Pomona lags behind that of other cities by 7% to as much as 13%.

City budget officials concede that salaries are low, but contend that Pomona cannot afford any cost-of-living increases this year.

Budget and research officer Dale Keller said that the city faces not only a $1.3-million deficit this year, but also a shortfall that could go as high as $6 million in the 1986-87 fiscal year.

The city had proposed an assessment district that would have made up this year's deficit, but the council, bowing to public pressure, voted it down in July.

Budget officials trace the deficit's origins to a gap between expenditures and revenues that began when Proposition 13 placed a ceiling on property taxes.

Councilman Jay Gaulding said that the postponement of sanitation and water rate increases over the years helped create the deficit.

He also said the doubling of city liability insurance premiums since last year has had a devastating effect on city finances.

To help make up the deficit, the city has also asked all departments to trim their budgets by 3.7%. The reductions will be handled mostly through attrition and delay of equipment and other purchases, department heads said. No layoffs are planned.

Gaulding, Councilman Vernon Weigand and Bridget Distelrath, assistant to the city administrator, defended the proposal to raise the salaries of management personnel while denying cost-of-living raises to general service employees.

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