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City Councilman Carl DeMaio has argued throughout his political career that government should be more like the private sector. He has ridiculed city wages, retirement benefits and employee perks as being out of sync with the market.
Now campaigning for mayor, DeMaio cites this platform to outline what would change under his administration at City Hall. At a March 14 candidates’ forum in Mission Valley, DeMaio blasted the existence of one perk he called “scooter pay.”
Parking enforcement officers, known colloquially as meter maids, and their supervisors get an additional 90 cents an hour for driving the city’s parking enforcement vehicles. The city officially calls it “three-wheel motorcycle pay.”
The benefit has been provided for at least the past decade in agreement with the city’s white-collar workers union, according to city documents. The current annual budget for the extra pay alone is about $106,000. It’s categorized as specialty pay.
At the forum, DeMaio scoffed at the designation and compared the skills needed to operate the vehicles to those used by children to ride bicycles.
“Seriously, my friends,” DeMaio told the crowd. “The unions said it takes a special skill set to drive a scooter.”
DeMaio then listed more details about the benefit:
It’s on average an 8 to 9 percent increase on base compensation, and by the way, you get paid scooter pay even when you’re not riding the scooter. You get scooter pay like all specialty pays when you’re on vacation and it’s used in calculating your highest compensation for your pension payout.
Since the issue struck a core theme of DeMaio’s campaign for mayor and was cited as an example of needed reform, we felt the statement merited a Fact Check. The accuracy of DeMaio’s four claims varies so we’ve decided to analyze and rate them separately below.
‘It’s on average an 8 to 9 percent increase on base compensation.’
DeMaio overstated how much additional pay is provided to the average parking enforcement officer. The Police Department currently has 55 of them and the average gets between 4 and 5 percent more pay per hour.
We confirmed that pay range with Ron Villa, the Police Department’s top financial official, and city budget documents. The percentage varies slightly depending on an employee’s pay grade, but it wouldn’t ever reach the level DeMaio described at the forum.
By saying 8 to 9 percent, DeMaio essentially doubled how much additional pay the average parking enforcement officer receives. Because that’s a significant difference, we’ve rated the claim False.
In a statement, DeMaio acknowledged the error and thanked us for researching the issue.
“Whether it’s 3%, 5% or 9%, ‘Scooter Pay’ is yet another example of the indefensible specialty pays used to inflate pension benefits,” DeMaio wrote.
‘You get paid scooter pay even when you’re not riding the scooter.’
Through labor negotiations, the city has agreed to provide the benefit to parking enforcement officers regardless of whether they’re driving the vehicle. If an officer works a 40-hour week, their pay increases by $36 each week or about $1,900 annually.
Police officials said the pay compensates workers for training needed to operate the vehicles. Acting Lt. Paul Connelly, who oversees traffic enforcement, said the vehicles can easily roll over if drivers don’t know how to stop quickly or maneuver at high speeds.
“We actually issue driver licenses to [parking enforcement officers] who successfully pass scooter training,” Connelly wrote in an email.
But training isn’t why the benefit was originally offered, said white-collar union head Michael Zucchet. The union pushed for the benefit decades ago because employees had reported numerous accidents and injuries from the vehicles, he said.
Zucchet said the union proved the vehicles were a safety hazard to workers and the city agreed to start paying workers extra to drive them. But now, with one exception, parking enforcement officers get the pay regardless of whether they’re exposed to the hazard.
The one exception is parking enforcement supervisors. Unlike officers, labor agreements only offer the benefit to supervisors when they’re driving the vehicles. Because that’s an important nuance to consider to DeMaio’s claim, we’ve rated it Mostly True.
‘You get scooter pay like all specialty pays when you’re on vacation.’
DeMaio’s statement accurately described how the benefit applies to parking enforcement officers but not how it applies to their supervisors. Officers get the additional pay while they’re on vacation. Supervisors don’t.
Officers get the pay during vacation because labor agreements have basically attached the benefit to their normal hourly rate. When officers use their accrued vacation, the city pays them the same hourly rate as if they were working, including the extra pay.
Supervisors only get the extra pay while driving the vehicle, which underscores a fallacy in DeMaio’s statement that all specialty pays are offered to employees while they’re on vacation. In some cases, employees only get specialty pay while using their specialty.
Because DeMaio’s point is accurate for parking enforcement officers but the claim contains several significant caveats, we’ve rated it Barely True.
‘It’s used in calculating your highest compensation for your pension payout.’
DeMaio accurately highlighted the long-term financial impacts of providing the additional pay. It’s used to determine how much money employees will receive from the city in retirement.
The benefit is included in a long list of specialty pays used to calculate employees’ pensions. Because the three-wheel motorcycle benefit made the list, we’ve rated this claim True.
To review, DeMaio’s four claims hit across the board. We’ve rated one True, one Mostly True, one Barely True and one False. If you disagree with our ratings or analyses, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this post. Be sure to explain your reasoning.
Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.
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