Beginning in April, Laguna Beach City Hall will close on alternate Fridays, but remain open an hour longer Monday through Thursday with revised business hours, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The change in operating hours for a six-month trial period reflect one of the conditions negotiated under a multi-year wage pact for city workers, also approved by the City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
Currently, 16 of 34 cities in the county have already adopted a similar work schedule that allows for three-day weekends and a staff report predicts the tool that should help stem a rash of staff turnover among City Hall workers.
“It’s a very serious issue with retention and recruits,” City Manager John Pietig explained to the City Council. “We’re behind in the market place with scheduling.”
Council member Toni Iseman alone voted against the idea and alternatively suggested “Friday light,” which she described as reduced staffing. “It’s not public friendly to have City Hall closed every 10th day,” she said.
In response, Pietig said he was skeptical a half-staff could be effective at resolving public queries. “I’m concerned we don’t have enough staff,” he said.
“It’s better to have closure than poor service,” added Council member Kelly Boyd.
Mayor Steve Dicterow urged adoption of the scheduling change on a trial basis. “If it’s not working, we can fix it,” he said. The changes will not impact staffing in the police and fire departments, whose employees already keep less traditional work schedules.
Under the new wage pact, workers received a 3.5 percent pay increase effective Jan. 1 and 3 percent pay boosts in the two succeeding years. The raises will cost the city $460,000 in the first two years, though the contract runs through June 30, 2019.
City officials and the Municipal Employees’ Association, representing 107 workers ranging from planners to maintenance workers, negotiated the new contract six months prior to the old pact’s expiration, which allows workers to start bring home the pay increase effective Jan. 4.
Matching wage increases were also approved by the council for the city’s 24 managers, who aren’t represented by a union but typically receive salary and benefit changes that mirror what is negotiated by the association, says the staff report.
Asked why the negotiations were concluded in advance, Association President Scott Diederich said, “we’ve been working in good faith with the city.” He pointed to concessions made under the previous contract, where association members agreed to contribute 8 percent of their pay towards retirement benefits and gave up negotiated cost-of-living pay raises during the recession.
In the staff report, Pietig said the concessions and the improving economy allowed negotiations to wrap up ahead of the contract expiration deadline.
The U.S. average weekly wage increased 3 percent over the year, growing to $968 in the second quarter of 2015, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last December. The Consumer Price Index rose .7 percent in 2015, compared to a .5 percent increase the year before.
Approval of the wage pact coincided with the city’s mid-year budget review, where the council decided how to spend $4.8 million in greater than expected revenue for the year ending June 30. About half was set aside as reserves for possible storm damage.
Diederich, who works in the lifeguard command staff, pointed out that wage and benefit trends have now come full circle. In the ‘80s, he said, employees also bore the entire cost of funding retirement contributions, which the city had partly subsidized in recent years.
Also included in the pact is the addition of bilingual pay for five positions at public counters and a customer-service component added to employee evaluations.
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