Little Rock City Director Erma Hendrix encouraged low-wage, nonuniformed city employees on Tuesday to go on strike until officials pay them a living wage.
Hendrix's suggestion came up during budget discussions Tuesday, when the board approved the 2017 budget in an 8-1 vote, with City Director Ken Richardson absent and Hendrix being the only city director to vote against approval.
Little Rock will give 1.5 percent raises to all of its employees, pay off debt, add a few positions and start new projects in 2017, all of which contribute to raising the budget by $4.7 million over this year's.
In all, the city expects to spend $204.5 million in the new year.
Jim Nickels, who represents nonuniformed, union-eligible city employees such as sanitation workers and street crews, told the city board Tuesday that he was in negotiations with City Manager Bruce Moore to start a step-and-grade system for the employees he represents.
Police officers and firefighters already are under such a system, which increases the wages of such employees each year up to eight years.
"These [nonuniformed] employees put their lives on the line for the city. The one fatality for the city has been the Street Department employee that got killed in inclement weather out working. They do deserve recognition for the type of work that they do and value of that work and dignity of that work," Nickels said. "We feel like moving to a step-and-grade system will help with that."
He added that he has met with Moore twice in recent weeks, and he's encouraged that his goal will be reached. Moore also said the city agreed to the concept of a step-and-grade system for those workers, but the details have to be worked out.
That's when Hendrix said she didn't think the city was moving fast enough and that those workers -- the majority of whom are black, Nickels said -- are long overdue for pay increases. Hendrix also indicated that the low-paid workers are mostly members of minority groups.
"Somebody needs to step up to the plate. I would say, if I was one of those employees, I would strike. It makes no kind of sense," Hendrix said.
"I think they should strike. ... You're not making any money now, so maybe if you go home and sit and strike, maybe you'll get some. They need to stop being afraid," Hendrix said of the employees.
When asked after the meeting if Hendrix was serious about her suggestion of a strike, she said yes.
The lowest paid full-time city employee makes $10.43 an hour, according to the city. Some part-time employees make the minimum wage, which is $8 per hour and will increase to $8.50 an hour Jan. 1.
City Director Doris Wright asked the Human Resources Department to give a report to the board on what a living wage for Little Rock would be, and several on the board voiced support for a step-and-grade system for nonuniformed employees.
Moore, in response to Hendrix, said he never has recommended pay or salary based on race.
Moore also said that in 2015, when employees got a 2.5 percent raise, he made sure all employees' salaries increased by at least $850, since the new lower-paid workers wouldn't reach that amount with the 2.5 percent increase.
Much of the increase in expenses in the city's 2017 budget is for an across-the-board 1.5 percent raise for all employees.
While the city plans to spend $204.5 million in 2017, it has budgeted only $202.3 million in revenue. To make up the gap, officials decided to carry over $2.2 million in revenue from previous years.
That carry-over is revenue that was collected in previous years above the city's total expenses but that was not moved to the city's restricted reserves account. Little Rock has $9.4 million in restricted reserves, which is for emergencies.
Metro on 12/14/2016
Print Headline: Strike, LR city workers advised