Raleigh workers feel neglected after fire and police raises
About 20 city workers and their supporters gathered outside Raleigh City Hall on Tuesday to demand pay raises that were promised.
The employees, who work in several city departments including solid waste, parks and recreation and public utilities, say raises that were supposed to go into effect Sept. 30 have not been implemented and that city leaders aren’t listening to concerns about workplace policies.
Raleigh’s budget approved this summer included $6.7 million in pay increases for city workers, with the biggest raises for police officers and firefighters.
Those who gathered outside City Hall on Hargett Street on Tuesday for an “informal picket” are members and supporters of the Raleigh City Workers Union, a chapter of the public service union UE150.
“A lot of people in the union are talking about how public works and sanitation get ignored,” said Michael Moore, who drives waste-collection trucks for the city. “Their raises are pushed under the rug. Police and fire, they stuck together, they stuck with their union, and they made themselves heard.”
The city’s 4,000 full-time workers received a mid-year living-wage adjustment in April that brought everyone’s annual income up to at least $28,261. This summer, Raleigh restructured its wage system for the first time in 13 years, a move that gave solid waste workers raises of between 3.1 percent and 7.8 percent.
The city also simplified its job classification system, reducing the number of job types from about 750 to 260.
In a news release Tuesday, the union said many workers still couldn’t afford to live in Raleigh. It also said workers are “challenging the city for a new disciplinary policy that would take away earned vacation days when on suspension, rather than have workers take unpaid days off work.”
Other workers echoed concerns about transparency that cropped up a few weeks ago when some police officers and firefighters protested a change to their benefits. Picketers on Tuesday said they hoped city leaders would be more clear about wage increases and advancement policies, which they described as arbitrary and inscrutable.
Gerrand Ushery, who has worked for the city’s solid waste department for six years, said more than two dozen senior employees had received letters notifying them of $3,000 raises, only to receive another letter a few weeks later telling them their pay increases would be far less. He said he knew of some employees who still hadn’t received their raises and hadn’t been told when they would.
Raleigh spokesman John Boyette provided an outline of the new wage policies but said the city would not comment on Tuesday’s protest.
Some workers and activists said they felt discouraged by how little attention salaries of all city workers received leading up to the recent municipal election. Most discussions from candidates focused on pay for first responders.
“For reasons that are understandable, the public safety workers are pretty high profile,” said Ajamu Dillahunt, a former postal worker and a member of Black Workers for Justice. “They’re predominantly white and male, too, so that I think (that) speaks a little bit to it. People don’t tend to think of the importance of sanitation workers until they start picking up their trash.”
Dante Strobino, an organizer with the Raleigh City Workers Union, said the chapter has invited both Mayor Nancy McFarlane and challenger Charles Francis to speak with the group before it makes an endorsement in the Nov. 7 runoff election.
“This has happened under McFarlane’s watch, which would suggest she’s not paying attention to the workers,” Dillahunt said. “Whether Francis will advocate for them or not, I’m not sure. In my humble opinion, this could be one of the key issues of the runoff period.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan