Long Beach employees seek salary increases based on cost of living in proposed budget – Press Telegram

City of Long Beach workers filled civic chambers at this week’s city council meeting to demand cost-of-living wage increases for frontline government workers, who they say will are overworked and underpaid – especially 911 dispatchers and paramedics.

The timing was right, with City Council discussing the public safety portion of Long Beach’s proposed 2022-23 fiscal year budget during the meeting. And the employees seemed to have at least a few sympathetic listeners, with city officials acknowledging the difficulties all departments have had in hiring and retaining employees since the pandemic began.

Natalie Gonzalez, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 1930, said employees are burning out after nearly 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic and, in some cases, leaving the company altogether. town.

This union represents nearly 3,000 municipal employees, including 911 dispatchers and paramedics.

“We hear all the time about the cost of paying employees more — but no one seems to discuss the cost of not paying us appropriate salaries,” Gonzalez said. “Our members received more tasks and less resources, more stress and less compassion.

“This continuing and accelerating loss of institutional knowledge,” she added of the employee departures, “and is impacting our effectiveness.”

While city officials noted that union members have wage increases built into the current employment contract, fire and police chiefs also cited staffing and long-term employee retention. as a major challenge for the coming year.

“One of the biggest challenges facing law enforcement today is recruitment and retention,” said Police Chief Wally Hebeish. “And sadly, the Long Beach Police Department is no exception; staffing shortages and declining interest in the profession plague our service – hiring, training and retaining police officers has never been more critical.

And the challenge is not limited to a single department.

“One of our biggest challenges internally right now is hiring,” City Manager Tom Modica said during a budget unveiling presentation Aug. 2. “Like in any organization, there are people going through the big resignation, there are people leaving, there are people retiring, and it’s been really tough with such a low unemployment rate of attract people to our city.”

Long Beach is seeking to round out the ranks of its civil service division, Modica said, a move the city hopes will help speed up the hiring process across all departments and ensure the city hall can retain high-quality employees. .

The proposed budget provides for the addition of four new positions in the civil service: three personnel analysts and one personnel assistant.

These positions would expand the department’s hiring capabilities and allow the city to further refine its job classifications and compensation, according to Modica’s presentation.

The proposed budget also includes funds to strengthen hiring and retention practices for the city as a whole – including $104,317 to strengthen the Learning Management System, which provides staff development and training to the city ​​scale.

But Gonzalez, along with other union members who spoke during the public comments, said those investments may not be worthwhile in the long run if employees aren’t compensated more competitively.

“It’s an issue that affects members of all departments,” Gonzalez said in an interview Tuesday night. “One of the things we struggle with is retaining employees because they go to other cities that pay better.”

That, along with long shifts and stressful working conditions, is straining Long Beach’s workforce, she said.

The majority of stakeholders at the public consultation session identified themselves as 911 dispatchers, paramedics and special service agents.

Michelle Salas, a 911 dispatcher from Long Beach, said her department was severely understaffed — to the point that dispatchers routinely work 2-4 p.m. shifts.

And being a dispatcher is emotionally taxing, she says.

“Looking at the victim’s faces in the media, hearing the caller screaming at the top of their lungs, or a victim gasping for air after an injury,” Salas said, “are all types of stressors we deal with.” .

The calls, Salas said, are almost constant.

And to avoid running out, understaffed dispatchers often skip breaks and eat lunch at their desks.

“It’s a disservice to the Long Beach community,” Salas said. “We now have 31 dispatchers, including myself. That means one dispatcher for every 14,711 people in Long Beach.

Several other speakers echoed Salas’ comments.

Some said they slept in their cars after work, too exhausted to drive home, while others said their long working hours left little room for personal or family time.

“We need a competitive salary to not only attract entry-level dispatchers, but also to keep the seasoned dispatchers we have happy in their current jobs and to serve the city of Long Beach,” said LBFD dispatcher Tiffany, who did not give his last name during public comment. “We develop leaders in shipping. It’s frustrating to see other dispatchers leave and they leave with our training model — they leave with our leadership skills.

The union currently has a long-term employment contract with the city, Modica said. And under that contract, union members received a 2% pay rise last year and are set to get another 2% raise in September – as well as a final 1% raise in April .

“The contract ends after that,” Modica said, and “there will be a chance to consider further negotiations.”

Gonzalez, for his part, said that even with these negotiated increases, the compensation does not match the high cost of living in California. Long Beach is not immune to these costs. While Long Beach has long prided itself on being one of the most affordable coastal towns, the average rent for a studio apartment in the town has reached $1,500, according to authorities.

“Doing the math,” Gonzalez added, “we’re just not tracking inflation.”

Inflation hit 8.5% in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But in addition to asking for additional pay raises, Gonzalez also said she’d like to see the city conduct a compensation study — comparing the average salary of Long Beach employees to those in other comparable jurisdictions — to determine whether the City wages fall below market rate.

The last pay study, Modica said, was in 2018.

“I think we should do these studies every five years since the economy is changing so much and it’s in flux,” City Councilor Roberto Uranga said on Tuesday. “We have to follow what is happening.”

Gonzalez said she and other union members would continue to show up at Long Beach budget hearings — hoping to persuade the city council to include cost-of-living increases in the proposed budget before it passes.

The remaining City of Long Beach departments will present their proposed budgets at City Council meetings through August 23. The city will also host three virtual community budget meetings in the coming months. The next one is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 11.

The council is due to adopt the budget next month. The new fiscal year begins on October 1.

More information about Long Beach’s budget hearings and community meetings is available on the city’s website. website.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct an incorrect name.

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Michael A. Bynum