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EBR employees demand higher salaries in 2014

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Louisiana Politics

POSTED: Friday, October 11, 2013 - 5:30am

UPDATED: Friday, October 11, 2013 - 12:42pm

Baton Rouge government workers say it's time they get paid a fair salary.

Members of SEIU Local 21LA gathered on the steps of City Hall on Thursday to call on Mayor Kip Holden to increase their wages.

The union released a six-page report highlighting the inequity in the salaries earned by its members, both compared to the Baton Rouge population at large and compared to government employees in comparable southern cities.

A pair of workers told stories about their departments being understaffed and facing low morale because salaries are not high enough to entice people to apply.

Joshua Williams, a member of the Department of Public Works, said he felt the city does not understand how hard he and his colleagues work.

"Knowing all that myself and other workers do., we're the reason why the city runs," he stated. "And do I think we're appreciated? No, I really don't."

The union's report corresponds with a report being prepared by consultants on behalf of the city regarding employee pay, which could be released soon. The union said it had access to the same raw data as the consultants, but chose to analyze them independently.

The union found that 751 city employees, or 14 percent of its workforce, earn less than $10 per hour. Nearly half of all city workers make less than $15 per hour. Roughly 450 people fall into that category, even though they have worked for the city for more than 10 years.

The union members gathered shortly before the start of Jambalaya Jam, an event benefiting the Capital Area United Way, in the North Boulevard Town Square. The event brought thousands of people to downtown, which the union said was only possible because of its members.

"You know, the city just put in millions for IBM to come downtown," union president Helene O'Brien mentioned. "While we think that's a fair investment, if they have those kinds of investments, they've got to be able to invest in their own workforce."

The union made its demands public to try to influence Holden's 2014 budget, which must be presented to the Metro Council in the next two months. O'Brien gave two reasons why the city could afford to pay higher wages: the passage of a dedicated tax for CATS freed $3 million in the general fund; and city revenues have increased in recent years.

The union said only that it wanted across-the-board raises. The closest it came to defining an amount was to mention a draft report by the city's consultants, which suggested a six percent pay increase, at a total cost of $6 million. The union's report, though, cites 2010 data showing that half of city jobs have a maximum pay level that is 20 percent below the market average.

Firefighters and police officers are not members of SEIU, and the union said their salaries were not included in its analysis.

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