City workers hope for pay increases this year
DJ Becker/The Madera Tribune
Association president Dustin Pickett discusses the perspective of the 120 or so skilled workers within the Madera Affiliated City Employees Association (MACEA) as the group continues to try and negotiate for a cost-of-living increase with the City of Madera.
After years of silence, the city’s rank and file would like to be heard. They are the skilled workers in the Madera Affiliated City Employees Association (MACEA) and the people that keep the city running — the mechanics, carpenters, electricians, administrative staff, equipment operators, workers in the streets, parks, airport, and the water and sewer plant operators, to name a few.
The association is currently working under an expired contract and is in the process of contract negotiations with the city of Madera. Some of the members were a bit reluctant about speaking up, but there reportedly hasn’t been much back and forth, again this year.
“We are the largest city union, about 120 people, and are basically the boots on the ground,” said Dustin Pickett, MACEA president for the last two years. “We are the city people that you encounter or see out working here every day. And it’s been an uphill battle, to just stay even (with wages). We didn’t get a cost of living last year, no talk of it this year at all. The want us to pay a (larger) portion of our health insurance and CALPERS which I understand, but that is basically a pay cut. The one time $500 stipend offered doesn’t offset the cuts. The price of everything else has gone up. We are going backwards, not to mention not getting a cost of living increase.” Pickett said.
The last few years of chaos in the city have also been difficult. The bad press, uncertainty with management and the turmoil of having a projected budget deficit one month and then ending up with a large surplus later in the budget year have been demoralizing and an emotion roller coaster for the rank-and-file workers, who according to Pickett, don’t know what to really believe.
The annual salaries and benefits of $250,000 to $300,000 paid to the previous city manager and some previous senior city department heads from 2015 to 2018 were also hard for rank-and-file workers to comprehend, he said.
“We are not asking for 20 percent or massive money, just a cost of living increase ... 3 percent, to keep pace. We are going backwards. Nothing last year. Some of our members make around $30,000 to $32,000, which is close to the poverty level in California. We had a decent contract about five years ago that brought us up to market median with the normal benefits package. That contract ended three years ago and it’s like we are still locked in to that ... always fighting an uphill battle just to stay neutral. It also seems like they are balancing the (city) budget on the backs of the employees. We are not included in the budget process ... nothing is set aside for employees. They could make that happen if they wanted to. It doesn’t feel like a negotiation process. I’m sure we’ll end up with a budget surplus again this year also. It’s disappointing and basically like ‘take a pay cut’. And that’s not a good a place to be.” said Pickett.
The recent changes in senior city staff, the city manager and city council, were welcomed by the union members, Pickett said, but he’s been witnessing the same wage battle every year, since he started with the city in 2008.
About 30 positions in the MACEA group are currently vacant or frozen city-wide, he said, and that work is being covered by existing employees where possible, which only increases the workloads.
“I’m still optimistic. This is home, where a lot of our employees live and where we’d still like to be. But this (almost yearly battle) is tough and gets discouraging ... and effects morale. It makes the employees feel like we are not worth the work we put in. We still show up, do our jobs and provide the services to the citizens. We do that regardless. But we do lose experienced people to Fresno and Clovis, and that’s a loss to the city. Then there are retraining costs ... I’d still like to think we can get to where we need to be (with more competitive wages), with everything now being more open and transparent. When that’s going to happen, I don’t know.” Pickett said.