Statement: “The average annual salary of general employees working for the city is $53,000, while their average pension is $37,000 after dedicating three decades of their professional lives to the city,” Michael Zucchet, a city of San Diego union leader, wrote in a Union-Tribune op-ed Oct. 7.
Determination: Mostly True
Analysis: City of San Diego employees seem to face disparagement every week over their salaries and retirement benefits.
Michael Zucchet, head of the city’s white-collar union, argued in a recent op-ed that the focus on the city’s highest paid and highest pensioned employees doesn’t reflect life for a majority of city workers.
Zucchet writes that the city’s general employees — about two-thirds of its workforce, including librarians, 911 dispatchers and trash collectors — earn an average of $53,000 in salary a year and their average pension is $37,000 after 30 years of service. Further, he says, these employees do not receive a Social Security benefit because the city doesn’t pay into the system.
He got most of it right.
The city’s general employees earn on average just less than $53,000 in salary and receive about $31,000 in pension payouts annually, according to city data. But retirement system data shows most city employees retire after at least 20 years of service, not 30. Zucchet is correct that the city left the Social Security system in 1982 and city employees do not receive Social Security benefits when they retire.
Typically when discussing salary and benefit figures context is needed beyond the numbers.
In this case, the salary figures Zucchet quoted do not include extra pay for overtime and add-ons like bilingual pay, meaning average take-home pay for employees likely is higher than $53,000 a year. Zucchet relied on an August story in the Union-Tribune for his pension figure. His number was about $6,000 higher than the retirement system’s — an error in his favor.
One note also about the definition of “general employee”: It doesn’t include police officers and firefighters, who usually receive higher pay and benefits or high-level management, who also typically receive more. Zucchet addressed this distinction in his op-ed by giving examples of general employees. City statistics show general employees make up about 62 percent of the city’s workforce, close but not quite two-thirds of city workers.
We’re calling Zucchet’s statement “mostly true” because he accurately described salaries for the large number of city employees he referenced and actually overvalued their pension benefits, but was imprecise on how many years city employees work.
Here are the actual numbers for Zucchet’s assertions, according to statistics provided by the city’s financial management and human resources departments and its retirement system:
• Current average salary for general employees: $52,393.
• Current average pension for general employees (includes surviving spouse benefit): $31,201.
• Current percentage of general employees compared to the city’s overall workforce: 61.9 percent.
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