Kriseman doles out raises to nonunion city workers in midst of union drive

Published March 19, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — About 2,000 nonunion city employees received 2.5 percent raises Wednesday in the midst of a drive to unionize some of those workers.

Mayor Rick Kriseman announced the wage increase in a memorandum, casting it as a rollback of a salary cut of the same amount that nonunion employees endured in the dark days of the 2009 recession.

The raises will cost about $332,000 and will show up in employees' paychecks on April 3.

The timing of the move rankled union organizers. The Florida Public Services Union is trying to organize about 365 nonunion professionals like engineers, chemists, planners and technology workers.

The union election hasn't been scheduled yet, but City Administrator Gary Cornwell said the raises weren't intended to blunt the organizing effort.

During this year's budget discussions and subsequent City Council debates on the contingency fund, council members were briefed on $425,000 set aside for the salary adjustments, he said.

The city had enough money to fund only the pay bump for half a year, which is why it was always planned for April, Cornwell said.

"Gee, the timing doesn't look good. It looks like that," he said, acknowledging that the political facets could be perceived as anti-union.

Rick Smith, chief of staff for the union, said he doesn't begrudge employees getting a raise, but he scoffed at the administration's explanation. He said no mention of a 2.5 percent raise was made during budget talks last year.

"The timing is very suspicious. They could have done this six weeks from now," Smith said. "Their story is full of holes."

Smith said Kriseman's decision wouldn't sway the professionals who are considering a union. "It won't change things one iota," Smith said.

Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby said the mayor had no intention of heading off a union effort. Instead, he said, the mayor wants to retain top talent that has stuck with the city through tough times.

"We were losing our competitive edge," Kirby said.

Nonunion employees have received 2 percent raises for the past two years, said Chris Guella, the city's human resources director. Before that, they hadn't received raises for four consecutive years, he said.

Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes said he remembered the mayor talking about wanting to retain quality employees and wasn't aware of the union push.

"I don't think it was some kind of ploy. I think it was something the mayor wanted and intended to do," Gerdes said. "But I can understand the union reaction."

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.