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St. Petersburg says they can't afford 'living wage' raise for workers

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's response Friday to union requests for raising the base pay to a $15 an hour "living wage" for more than 300 city workers was succinct: Not this year.

The city instead offered a 2 percent raise to city union workers, which will cost about $915,000, said Kristen Mory, the city's labor relations and compensation manager. After the meeting, she said that amount was all the city can afford.

After the pay hike is settled for the upcoming budget, she said, the city is open to discussing the union's living wage proposal and any other issues.

"Then we start working on longer-term issues," Mory said.

About 300 city workers make less than $15 an hour. Union officials have estimated it would cost about $1 million to raise those workers' hourly wages to $15 over a three-year period.

City officials on Friday said the cost was closer to $4 million to bring all city workers — union and non-union— to that level.

Raises for supervisors and other workers haven't been determined yet, said Chris Guella, the city's human resource director.

The union is proposing the wage hikes over three years because it would be cheaper as roughly 15 to 20 percent of the city's low-wage workers leave within three years, said Rick Smith, chief of staff for the Florida Public Services Union, which represents about 1,250 blue-and white-collar St. Petersburg workers.

"We very clearly want to bring the bottom up … Realistically, we're not getting that in one year, but in three years it's not as expensive as you think," Smith said.

The tone of the 25-minute session was cordial.

"You're so reasonable," Smith told Mory at one point.

"Don't you hate it," replied Mory.

After the meeting, union representatives said they were confident that the city has money in the budget to give an average of 3 percent raises to most employees as well as bigger boosts to those in the bottom tier.

Another negotiating point, the effort to get the city to sign a "ban the box" ordinance to make it easier for people with criminal convictions to get hired didn't go anywhere.

The city already complies with federal and state laws regarding hiring, Mory said.

"We take a look at each situation at a case-by-case basis, people are not prohibited from jobs because of a criminal history," Mory said.

However, she said, not to do any background checks prior to an employment offer would snarl hiring efforts if a troublesome case popped up.

Union officials said that they would revisit the issue later, but emphasized that something needed to be done. Too many residents don't apply because they have a conviction and don't think they'll be hired.

"Knowing that they have a criminal past, they won't even apply," said Connie Oliver, a union member.

Charlie Frago can be reached at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago

St. Petersburg says they can't afford 'living wage' raise for workers 06/27/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 27, 2014 9:42pm]
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