Managers sacrifice to pare budget; union workers call their burden heavier
By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In July, as five months of contentious contract negotiations came to a close, Rohnert Park employee union leaders complained publicly that the city’s managers weren’t being asked to shoulder an equal share of concessions to help fill the budget deficit.
Angered, City Manager Gabe Gonzalez fired back in an email to all city employees. In it, he said cuts to managers and confidential employees’ benefits equaled the pay cuts rank-and-file workers were being asked to take.
“I want to make clear that these reductions are all cash value to the city, no fluff,” he said in a phrase that he underlined.
Gonzalez was referring chiefly to administrative leave hours. They are a bank of extra hours to be used for more time off. In Rohnert Park’s case, they also can be cashed in at year’s end. Only salaried workers who under federal labor law do not get paid overtime get the benefit.
Until July 1, Rohnert Park’s top managers got 150 hours a year — or 18 and three-quarter days — that they could use for time off in addition to their four weeks of vacation. They could cash in any time they didn’t use, up to 100 hours, at the end of the year.
Confidential employees received 60 hours a year that could be used, and they could sell back to the city up to 50 unused hours.
“It was essentially a 5 percent bump by being able to sell those hours,” Gonzalez said.
He spoke in the past tense because new contract terms that Gonzalez helped set and that took effect last month reduce the number of administrative leave hours.
The new arrangement grants 100 hours to managers, but limits the hours they can cash in to 25 a year; none carry over to the next year.
For the city’s two exempt confidential employees, the benefit was cut to 50 hours total, and a limit of 20 that can be cashed in.
“It’s a considerable amount (of savings) considering they are the city’ highest-paid employees,” Gonzalez said.
But union leaders say that because the cuts were to benefits, they weren’t the same as those their members took.
“The reality is it’s above and beyond their 2,080 hours; our unit took pay cuts based on our 2,080 hours,” said Angie Smith, president of the Rohnert Park Employees Association, referring to the sum of annual work hours based on a 40-hour workweek.
Her 28 members took a 6.25 percent pay cut and, overall, gave back 13 percent in combined salary and benefit cuts.
“They just don’t get as much administrative leave,” Smith said, referring to managers and confidential employees. “It’s a bonus.”
Gonzalez responded that the aim was to realize an equal percentage of savings from each bargaining unit, not necessarily to make the exact same cuts.
The changes bought the city’s administrative leave plan into line with “the industry standard,” Gonzalez said, and “is fair” given the demands on department heads.
“Most of our managers do work excess hours, they’re here late, they stay for council meetings and other sessions,” he said. “These are employees that typically don’t work an 8-to-5 workweek.”
On that point, at least, he has surprising support. Smith said she takes no issue with administrative leave, just how Gonzalez represented it as equivalent cuts.
“They do put in a lot of extra hours, it’s not five or 10 hours, it could be an extra 15 to 20 hours,” Smith said. “I’m sure they work way more than the hours a year that they get compensated for.”
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.