Tuesday, July 8, 2008

County workers' salaries to hit Web

Child-support matters can get ugly and Rebecca Banuelos prefers that the public not know she works for the county department.

She's willing to go public because she works far enough behind the scenes that she feels relatively safe, but some of her co-workers on the front lines are concerned, she says. Their names, job titles, salaries and benefits will soon be available on the county's Web site.

"Most of us live in the same areas as our clientele and they don't know where we work," the child-support assistant said.

A neighbor, who may have had an unfavorable ruling against them, may realize someone on their block works in the department and retaliate, Banuelos said.

"My main concern is the safety of our employees and my co-workers," she said. "There are some employees with an ex-spouse that doesn't know they work here and they'd like to keep it that way."

Employee union representatives said releasing employee compensation packages is an infringement on worker privacy and amounts to a bargaining ploy as numerous county contracts near expiration. Employees and union leaders plan to speak out at today's board of supervisors meeting.

In a July 1 memo, County Administrator John Cullen alerted Contra Costa County's approximately 8,500 employees that workers' names and total pay packages, including health care, workers' compensation and health care benefits, would be posted on the county Web site in the near future. The board Advertisementof supervisors approved the action March 18.

"This is a proactive effort on the part of the county to provide public information that is already available upon request," Cullen said. "What we are planning on putting out there is certainly public information.

"Rather than post everything as scheduled, we plan on holding off until we answer all the people's questions and concerns," he added. "We hope to dispel some of the rumors and misinformation about this."

Cullen plans to release a Frequently Asked Questions reference sheet to employees this week.

Cullen said he would "have to do a little more research on" posting information on employees in sensitive positions, such as sheriff's deputies, child welfare workers and mental health employees,

The impetus behind the action was to compare compensation of Contra Costa employees with those of similar counties, Cullen said.

"In the past, we used salary survey comparisons, but now benefits cost nearly as much as the salaries themselves ... so it's important to get a true comparison," said Supervisor John Gioia, who introduced the action in March with colleague Federal Glover.

Armed with its own employee salary information, the county plans to lobby for other counties to do the same and compare compensation packages, Cullen said.

Union representatives are questioning the timing.

"We find it very suspect in a contract year," said Jo Bates, business agent for American Federation State County Municipal Employees Local 2700, which represents 1,800 clerical, technical and specialized employees.

"We're asking the county for clarity of what they believe is total compensation," Bates said. "The accrual of sick leave may be stretching over to confidentiality.

"Employees want to know if this is legal and they're concerned about it being publicized on a Web site," Bates said. "Employees are really shocked by this."

They're also concerned for their safety, said Lois McKinney, work site organizer for SEIU 1021.

"We're putting a welcome mat out for hackers," she said. "Our members are outraged and feel angry."

Future employee compensation reports will include average hourly rates of pay, leave time taken, and accrued leave, the county administrator wrote in his memo.

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