Calexico Employee Raises
City of Calexico News

Goal! Calexico Employees Finally Net Raise, Many in Support

As of March 1, about 145 Calexico city employees started earning a two-percent cost-of-living-adjustment pay increase, with another two-percent due at the July 1 the start of the 2020-21 fiscal year, city officials announced.

It is the first cost-of-living-adjustment for city employees in more than a decade.

“I think it’s great that we can give these raises. It’s an incentive and it motivates them to work harder,” Calexico City Council Member Morris Reisen said March 3. “I clearly believe in spreading the wealth. I’ve been a businessman for 50 years, and I’ve found that employees savor that.”

The council unanimously voted to provide the raises in closed session during its Feb. 19 meeting. City Manager David Dale made the initial announcement to this newspaper late on Feb. 27 after coming to agreement on the raises in principle with all city-employee unions.

Mayor Bill Hodge and council members Rosie Fernandez and Lewis Pacheco also said they were pleased to be able to provide the employees with raises that all described as being long overdue. Council member David Romero could not be reached for comment.

Contacted March 2, Reisen, Pacheco and Fernandez each said they were unaware Dale had told this newspaper about the raises on Feb. 27 for a story posted on later that day.

“I’m very pleased because the city employees have made tremendous sacrifices with salary cuts and going with no pay (at times) to go the extra mile to get us economically sound again,” Hodge said Feb. 27.

Hodge described the raises as a gesture of “good will” meant to “keep the morale up.”

While the city still must focus on rebuilding its reserves, or rainy-day funds, the mayor added “we felt, among the city council, that the employees deserved at least a COLA (cost of living adjustment) raise.”

Previous Sacrifices

Dale said Feb. 27 employees had made significant sacrifices over the years to help the city avoid falling into bankruptcy. Following a period in 2016, when the city had a $4.5 million general-fund deficit and had to borrow from its own water enterprise fund, Dale said the city and its workers’ unions negotiated salary and benefit reductions to stay solvent.

At the end of the current fiscal year, June 30, city officials expect to see the first general fund surplus—more than $900,000—since 2014, officials previously reported.

 “I’m very pleased that we were able to give these resources back to our city employees. I wish we could do more,” Dale said.

City workers had not had a cost-of-living adjustment in 13 years, he added.

In addition to taking salary cuts, the workforce, through layoffs and attrition, has dwindled to around 145, about half of what the city employed just a decade ago.

The first part of the raises will cost the city around $62,800 through June 30, Dale added. The additional two percent will cost $188,500 for fiscal 2020-21.

Calexico officials are currently building the city’s 2020-21 budget, and Dale said March 3 he hopes to be able to add more staff positions. However, that will depend on a more detailed picture of projected revenues and expenditures, he added.

Union Reaction

Reaction from some of the city’s bargaining units was predictable.

“We’re very happy. What can I say? It’s been a long time coming,” said Lorena Minor, president of the Calexico Municipal Employees Association, which represents 45 city workers.

“As far as I can remember, it’s been 13 years since a cost-of-living-adjustment. I want to thank the city council,” Minor said after work Feb. 27. “Things are looking better for the employees of the city of Calexico.”

“I think it’s great that the city appears to be moving in a positive direction. We hope to see more of the same as part of our ongoing negotiations,” said Capt. Eduardo Ainza, a director for the Calexico Firefighters’ Association.

Ainza explained March 3 that the COLAs are not part of the ongoing negotiations separate unions are having with the city; rather, these were across-the-board increases the city felt compelled to provide.

In the case of the firefighters, it’s been a long road in trying to “chip away” at the negotiated salary and benefit reductions of several years ago, he added, and that four percent is just a “small fraction of what was conceded.

“But positive movement is a good sign,” Ainza said.

Community Response

Some members of the community were pleased to learn of the raises, realizing city employees were often the face of Calexico’s public financial struggles.

“They’re due. They really bit the big one … we had to negotiate 20 percent to 30 percent payroll reductions in some cases,” said Imperial County District 1 Supervisor Jesus Escobar on March 2.

Escobar was a member of the Calexico council when some of the contracts with city workers were being worked out. He left the council for his county board seat in early 2019.

“If anybody deserves (pay raises), it’s them,” Escobar added. “Kudos to (the city employees) and kudos to administration for being able to turn the corner and offer employees something.”

Advocate for Calexico’s homeless population and co-founder of the Brown Bag Coalition, Maribel Padilla, noted she encounters city employees several times a week when she is downtown feeding the homeless.

“It’s about time, because it’s always the city employees who take the hit for the community,” Padilla said March 2.

The cost of living goes up, the cost of food and utilities go up, and “still no raises,” she said. “That’s hard.”

A business-community representative agreed.

“It’s long overdue. The city employees, for the most part, it’s been over 10 years since they last got a raise. They really tightened their belts on this one,” said Alex Perrone, a former mayor and current Business Improvement District board member, on March 3.

Added business owner and Calexico Chamber of Commerce Director Louis Wong, “I think they deserve a raise because in the past they have been supporting the budget with wage reductions. “If our finances allow that we should support them, we have to pay them fairly,” Wong said March 3, “so they will support our city and take care of our city.”

This story is featured in the Mar 5, 2020 e-Edition.

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