Santa Fe City's progressive values conflict with leadership’s choices

As published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Jul 15, 2017 

If Santa Fe’s city manager has his druthers, a few dozen top managers and those well connected via the “good ol’ boy” network will enjoy 2017 raises that are 275 percent-plus higher than the average city employee cost-of-living increase, as proposed by the city.

Santa Fe government likes to flap its progressive gums, but this year when deciding how to structure finances for an overdue city employee raise, the administration is ripping a page out of the Wall Street playbook. Those at the top will take home the most. A few dozen top-brass managers expect to see at least a $2,000-per-year raise, even before a new $400,000 merit-based pay system goes online.

Pay-for-performance is a highly studied area that causes a host of unintended consequences. Unions are opposed to these schemes. There is no study showing that the individualization of pay improves team performance, and it is absolutely a divisive tactic that circumvents the union collective bargaining process.

The administration’s vision for the 244 city employees earning less than $15 per hour is far more modest than they have in mind for higher earners. That publicly heralded $11 per week raise is 350 percent lower than that of top management’s anticipated raise.

Our union continues negotiations to structure a fair and decent raise for Santa Fe city’s 700 American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union employees who haven’t had a raise in four years. Management, on the other hand, received an increase of 2 percent just last year.

During budget hearings, the city stonewalled and undermined union contract negotiations so egregiously that our local had to file a prohibited practice complaint with the state’s labor board and demand city negotiators fulfill financial information requests and conduct negotiations in good faith.

Hardworking, front-line union employees that keep Santa Fe’s basic services running refuse to kowtow. By short-staffing front-line work groups, the city has saved $10 million on our backs over the past year. The work keeps getting done because bus drivers work double shifts, trash truck drivers complete extra routes, and in general, union men and women sacrifice of themselves to deliver services. Making the lowest-paid worker’s salary more competitive is the right thing to do.

We talk a lot about income inequality and what shared sacrifice and shared prosperity should look like in Santa Fe. It’s not too late for city leaders to embrace an attitude of equity and push compensation funding toward where it can do the most good, and into the pockets of those who warrant the need most.

In the union we have an old and historic saying, “We want bread, but we want roses, too.” AFSCME Local 3999 members are grateful for the bread, and this year, city leaders should avoid hoarding the roses.

Michelle Gutierrez is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 3999. She lives in Santa Fe.