Just Ask A County Worker!!!

There’s been a lot of talk about the 4.75% wage increase offered by the Orange County Board of Supervisors to County workers. Everyone seems to have an opinion; but if you really want to know the truth, just ask a County worker.

In 1996, in response to the bankruptcy, the County of Orange commissioned KH Consulting Group to conduct the first and only comprehensive study comparing County worker salaries and benefits to other public and private sector workers. The study found that County salaries were at or below regional market range for 78% of the positions, and benefit costs were below average. Additionally, the County spent a smaller percentage of salary costs on benefits than other employers. Nationally, average benefit costs were 28.8% of salaries, while County benefits ranged from 11% to 25% for most positions. Vacation and sick pay benefits for County workers were less than those provided to other employees. County workers received 37.5 days of vacation, holiday, sick, and annual leave while others received between 38.4 and 39.5 days of paid time off.

The study concluded that the pay and benefits for County Workers was at or below the market rate provided by other public and private sector employers in Orange County and the region.

Some people think: “People line up around the block for county jobs.” However the facts just don’t back them up. County worker salaries are based on a 12 step salary scale. The intent is that new employees be hired at the lower steps, however to attract and hire qualified applicants a large percentage of jobs must be offered at the highest pay levels between steps 8 and 12.

For example, a purchasing buyer at the highest level of the County range is paid $22.38/hr; the median salary in the private sector is $21.77/hr. The middle of the salary range for this job in the private sector is $0.65 less that the top of the range for a County worker. The current low rate of unemployment, coupled with the high cost of living, and the lack of salary competitiveness has resulted in many vacant County positions remaining unfilled.

Opponents believe the myth that most County workers get merit raises every year. The myth is not true. In at least one County agency, 71% of workers are at the top of their salary scale or will be after their next performance review. In fact, almost 60% of County workers are already at the top of the scale. Once you add in the increased retirement contributions, they’re taking a net cut in pay. Regardless of the increase in the cost of living, these workers will never get a raise without a general increase. This fact has a major impact on retention and the ability to recruit new workers. A 4.75% general increase is hardly inflated or out of line.

Little has changed for County workers since the study was conducted. County salaries have not kept pace with the cost of living; the retirement benefits are in line with the benefits for similar public sector workers; and the costs of the increased benefits are being fully paid by the workers, not the County.

With all of the debate, one simple fact remains; the one-year 4.75% general salary increase is reasonable and necessary to close the gap in market parity of pay and benefits for County workers.

Ask a County worker, who by the way is a taxpayer, and they will tell you: the Board of Supervisors should ratify the 4.75% salary increase offer they authorized County negotiators to make.

The August 20, 2006 Sunday Edition of the Orange County Register includes a version of this commentary responding to a piece by Reed Royalty of the OC Taxpayers Association “Orange County Pay Daze”. You can read my response to Royalty Here.

  4 comments for “Just Ask A County Worker!!!

  1. August 20, 2006 at 3:51 pm

    Great editorial, Chris.

  2. August 20, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    After revealing all those stats, I can’t imagine any rational person would still argue that county employees are “overcompensated”… But of course, not all these folks are rational!

    Well, at least you should be able to convince the majority of OCers who can think.

    Great job, Chris! : )

  3. August 20, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    I have received a few comments from other County workers. This one, I would like to share.

    “That’s a great response! My husband and mother wanted me to write a response, but I didn’t have specifics (or the guts) to make it work that well. In our program, we are ALL hired at step 12. And it’s still hard to fill the positions. Then because of the lack of raises, it’s hard to keep the therapists around for more than a few years. So much for our “sweet” pension drawing anyone in!”

    County workers, and those who understand the importance of paying employees providing public services a competitive wage, need to speak up. The constant drumbeat of attacks on County workers will only be silenced when we all collectively voice our side of the story.

  4. August 21, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    Chris — Nice work. I was going to say that perhaps this would sway Steve Greenhut, but Andrew qualified it by saying “any rational person” so Steven will likely say houey to your arguement. Great column in the Register on Sunday.

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