Pay gap grows for California state workers in Bay Area despite raises, report shows

Wages for some local law enforcement workers are growing more quickly than for state workers with similar jobs in some of California’s most expensive cities, according to a new analysis of a state law enforcement contract.

Local agencies pay police and sheriff’s officers 51 percent more than state workers with similar duties in San Francisco, according to a report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Local agencies pay 38 percent more in Los Angeles, 29 percent more in Sacramento and 12 percent more in San Diego counties, according to the report.

The analysts reviewed a tentative agreement the California State Law Enforcement Association recently struck with the state.

The contract gives workers a general salary increase of at least 10 percent over four years coupled with special additional raises for about 80 percent of the 7,300 employees the union represents. The union represents law enforcement and public safety workers such as dispatchers, security officers, inspectors, investigators and park rangers.

The special raises, which range from a few percent up to 24 percent for a handful of officials, were given according to job classification, and generally went to classifications with vacancy rates of 20 percent or more.

Giving raises based on job classification doesn’t take into account the growing differences in regional job markets, posing a challenge for the state in recruitment and retention, according to the LAO analysis.

“In many cases, the state employs people in the same classification in both high and low cost of living regions of the state,” the report states.

As a result, the state has two competing priorities when setting pay for a given classification, according to the report.

“One priority is for the state to be a competitive employer in a region’s labor market by offering a compensation package that allows the state to recruit and retain employees,” the report states. “The second competing priority is to limit the amount of regional difference within a classification in order to prevent state employees from consistently transferring to higher paid regions of the state.”

The job classification raises resulted in some workers getting a raise when they were already being paid more than their local counterparts, according to the analysis.

Forensic science technicians, for example, are getting a special 7.5 percent raise despite making 7 percent more on average than their local counterparts. In San Diego County, they already make 12 percent more, according to the analysis.

Police, fire and ambulance dispatchers are receiving a 5 percent raise despite making an average of 10 percent more than their counterparts around the state. In Sacramento County, the dispatchers make 11 percent more than local counterparts, according to the analysis.

“Based strictly on the compensation study, the clearest case for large pay increases would be for classifications in the two occupation groups that were found to be below market,” the report states. “The administration states, however, that the proposed (special salary adjustments) were based on addressing various concerns mutually agreed upon by both management and CSLEA at the bargaining table.”

CSLEA chief counsel Kasey Clark said the union faces challenges hiring workers across the state, not just in high-cost areas.

“None of the proposals in the new agreement for special salary adjustments were based on locality as the agencies in question were having difficulty filling positions without regard to geographic location,” Clark said in an emailed statement.

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Unions increasingly are seeking higher pay in more expensive areas, known as geographical pay. SEIU Local 1000, the state’s largest union with about 96,000 members, formed a joint task force with the state to explore the issue, releasing a report in February recommending the state boost pay in expensive areas.

Local 1000 is in negotiations with the state for a contract that expires in January.

CSLEA’s new contract expanded the parts of the state where it pays dispatchers and communications operators an extra $300 per month. The contract expanded the additional pay to workers in Orange County, Ukiah, Humboldt, Chico, Ventura, San Luis Obispo and Indio, according to the union’s contract summary.

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Wes Venteicher anchors The Bee’s popular State Worker coverage in the newspaper’s Capitol Bureau. He covers taxes, pensions, unions, state spending and California government. A Montana native, he reported on health care and politics in Chicago and Pittsburgh before joining The Bee in 2018.