Council taken aback upon hearing not all workers receiving pay raise

Authored By James Harrison

Chattanooga City Council members said they were surprised to hear that after voting for a budget that included a 3 percent across-the-board pay raise for city employees, not all workers were slated to receive the increase.

During their regular period for public comment Tuesday, Stephen West, an equipment operator in the city’s Public Works Department and an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union Local 205, brought the discrepancy to the group’s attention.

“We got some guys that are not getting it,” West said. “But the way you all voted on it, it was across-the-board . I think you all need to look into it because it’s not fair to the guys.” 

The lack in raise applies to city workers who have “maxed out” in terms of their pay grade and longevity increases. Were the 3 percent raise to be administered, the small group of workers could see their salaries potentially exceed that of their supervisors, creating pay anomalies the budget sought to prevent.

On the whole, council members said they were taken aback to find out the budget included a clause that would have prevented pay raises from being given under that scenario. Councilwoman Carol Berz said she was not under the impression certain workers would be left out after the council spent weeks deliberating and discussing the budget.

“I was led to believe it was 3 percent across-the-board,” Berz said. “That’s what we put forward, and that’s what we voted on.”

Councilman Andraé McGary agreed. 

“That issue was never brought up in our discussion,” he said. “And we had a month or so where we discussed that. I find it incredulous.”

Mayor Ron Littlefield said that Tuesday’s meeting was the first he had heard of the situation and added that he would look at the pay plan as it affects maxed-out workers in the next week. Littlefield warned the council against possible complications because of the potential for anomalies to arise. 

“When we get into tampering with the pay plan in general, we get to those things you have to deal with called anomalies, which would be very troublesome,” Littlefield said. “So give us a week or so to sort this out and to see what the effect is, the unintended consequence.”

McGary suggested striking down the language of the budget and replacing it with language that applied to all city employees. 

“A man or a woman is as only as good as their word,” McGary said. “And if this council has voted already that there would be a 3 percent across-the-board, I think that’s what we are holding to. If the administration is saying they need to go back and crunch numbers, then please do so.”

Following the meeting, Littlefield said the council had been dealing with the issue of maxed-out workers as long as he could remember, and he added that if the group wanted to change the language regarding the pay raises, they would be able to do so.

“These are generally people who have been around for 30 years, and my heart goes out to them because I feel most of them are longtime friends of mine going back 30 years,” Littlefield said. “I’m surprised they haven’t called me. If the council wants to change the language, we’ll do it.”

In other news, council members passed the final reading of a resolution to place a referendum on the November ballot pertaining to the City Charter’s statute on recall elections. Under the proposal, the city would adhere to the state’s standards for mayor recalls as stated in the Tennessee state Constitution and require at least 15 percent of voters within a council member’s district to sign a recall petition for a recall to be in effect. 

With the exception of Councilwoman Sally Robinson, the group cast votes similar to those offered during last week’s vote on the measure. Robinson said she had changed her vote in hope that the resolution would cause the Tennessee General Assembly to “look very carefully” at the state law regarding recalls. 

The council voted 7-2, with McGary and Councilwoman Deborah Scott casting no votes.