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Statement Regarding Sanitation Worker Stand Down

Dear Durham Residents,

Day 4 of the Stand-Down and almost 1000 messages read, I want to thank residents for reaching out. I want folks to know that I support our city workers in the stand down, and I support our city manager trying to make sure city trash doesn’t pile up, but I have serious concerns about the message we send to employees and the cost of using contractors.

As a member of the city council, I want to address the recent demands put forth by UE150 and the pressing issue of fair pay. It's clear that we are facing a crucial problem that not only affects our dedicated city employees and the quality of services we provide but also raises concerns about equity and fairness.

First and foremost, it's important to acknowledge that we conducted a reclassification and pay study in 2017 and voted on a step pay schedule 2019. Understandable, these pay steps were paused during the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hazzard pay and bonuses were awarded from federal ARPA dollars in 2021.

Regrettably, the plan put forward to address the pay freeze in March by the city manager was not pushed forward and the Mayor’s request failed in a 4-3 vote of which I voted to support an increase for all city workers in June.

We must also acknowledge that if we had allocated larger raises at least or addressed the actual missed steps in the pay plan for our city employees during the budget cycle, as discussed we might have avoided this situation today. We can, and should, be fiscally responsible while also taking care of our city employees, who play an essential role in ensuring that residents receive the best possible city services.

During the budget deliberations earlier this year, we provided employees with a 2% market adjustment on the pay range which was added to the base pay as the step moves up. Instead of the 4% increase to all pay plans and salaries to help alleviate market pressure. This would have cost an additional $9 million dollars. The approved budget also allocated a 4-6% merit pay to reward based on performance. Additionally, staff has been directed to engage in another pay study to advise any further pay increases with the potential to adjust salaries during the 2023-24 fiscal year.

We cannot keep delaying fair compensation because disproportionately those most impacted are wage workers. I do believe the council is in full agreement the financial well-being of our employees has to be of value and addressing the inequalities within our city has to be a priority, without jeopardizing the health and safety of all city residents. We have to bridge the gap and ensure equitable compensation for our workforce. Offering a $5,000 bonus to our non management workers is a step in the right direction.

We often speak about political will and being progressive when it comes to addressing various issues. While there was political will to invest in expanding new community safety efforts designed to meet neighbors where they are, there has been a noticeable lack of political will to address fair pay and provide the fundamental services we are responsible for ensuring.

We must recognize that neither “equity” nor “progressivism” are just buzzwords; they are fundamental principles that should guide all of our decisions. The disparities that have arisen must be addressed.

I understand the concerns and frustrations within our community, and I'm committed to working towards a resolution that supports both our employees and our city's well-being. Let's come together to find a balanced approach that honors our fiscal responsibility while providing fair compensation to our dedicated workforce.

Sincerely, DeDreana Freeman

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