Friday, January 06, 2006

A Letter to a Union/Community Organizer

Dear Mr. Rathke,

As a laid-off city worker (Library Associate 1), I was curious whether the pay raises you discussed here
were finally approved. I couldn't find any follow up stories throughinternet searches. Did sixteen top city hall employees actually receive atotal of $860,000 in pay raises? Were these pay levels maintained after the post-Katrina lay offs?

At the time that Nagin announced the lay offs two things struck me. The first was that Nagin was throwing in the towel awfully early; the second was that the projected savings for the number of lay offs seemed awfully small--the city was laying off more low salary employees rather than fewer high salary employees. I wondered whether the mayor was trying to pressure the federal government into coming up with a better aid package; more cynically, I wondered whether he was using Katrina as an "opportunity" to scale back the city work force. I understand that lay offs usually begin at the bottom, especially if they're expected to be temporary. It's harder to replace the more skilled workers, armies decommission enlisted men before officers, etc., but remember, Nagin announced that the lay offs were "pretty permanent." I can't understand getting rid of so many Indians and keeping so many chiefs, esp. at full pay.

A glance at the library system may be instructive. In Oct., the NOPL lost 194 out of 213 positions. The Library wasn't told to cut payroll by a certain amount; it was told that it could retain 19 positions. Of the 19 retained two were the City Librarian and Asst. City Librarian-- presumably at full salary, there's been no transparency. The salary for NOPL employees can be found on pg. 12 of the following pdf (the hiring rate fig. is more
accurate than the annual minimum, at least in my case):
Of the remaining 17, I know of one associate retained. From what I've seen (again no transparency), the rest are Librarian II or III, branch managers, bureau chiefs or,in one case, executive assistant to the library board doing the jobs of associates or librarian I's. An educated guess would be that the average salary in the library system doubled when the staff was cut to
19. If other city departments are similar to the library, a lot of the cuts were made carelessly and needlessly.

The unnecessary loss of jobs would be bad enough if it only meant that perhaps a few dozen to a couple of hundred more people than necessary lost their jobs. But the Dept of Safety and Permits laid off 50 out of 109 employees. When I went down to City Hall to make my Jan. COBRA payment last Thurs., the line to get into permits was unbelievable. The city also says that it can't
afford to hire more electrical inspectors. Am I totally misunderstanding the situation, or has the mayor's insistence on no pay cuts at the very top and the failure to consolidate upper level positions throughout city government slowed down the entire city's recovery?

I mailed the above last night, because of the email form, I'm not sure if it went through. It's difficult to find much information about the city's payroll, but I do know that the mayor obtained large pay raises for top officials early in his administration and that he scoffed at the notion of a pay cut for top administrators when he announced the post Katrina lay offs. In the meantime, home and business owners face a ridiculous wait for electrical inspectors or to get into the permits office because the city can't afford to rehire more laid off staff.

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