Wednesday, January 27, 2021     Volume: 21, Issue: 47

Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on January 13th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 46 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 46

Pay equity is essential in local government jobs


Anyone who works for a living gets paid to do it; the amount they receive depends on what the employer feels the job is worth. Most employee unions, large employers, and government agencies employ experts to establish what they call “pay equity.” But how do they do it?

This is important information when worker representatives (unions) are negotiating compensation packages with the employers and weigh heavily on retention or whether more experienced workers stay where they start out. 

Pay equity has always been a sticking point when discussing the outflow of qualified employees in Lompoc. Some say it’s because the city pays lower rates than other jurisdictions in the county for the same jobs, so let’s take a look.

The compensation levels below do not include benefit amounts for vacation, sick, retirement, and insurance subsidies. Most government jobs use CalPERS Instead of Social Security as their retirement plan, and like Social Security both the worker and the employer pay for this benefit.

For government jobs, there is the state of California Civil Service Pay Scale; job titles are listed alphabetically, and monthly rates are applied. For example, a building maintenance worker can earn between $3,766 to $4,751 per month ($23.54 to $29.70 per hour) using the state scale. Meanwhile the city of Lompoc pay scale for the same job title shows that the pay scale is $3,135 to $3,941 per month ($19.60 to $24.63 per hour). And the median pay scale in the Los Angeles area for a building maintenance worker in the private sector is $16.87 per hour ($2,699 per month).

So you see, establishing pay equity can be a challenging task; in the case of the building maintenance worker, you could make the case that it’s somewhere between $16.87 on the low end and $19.60 on the high end at the entry level, which would then be about $18.25 per hour.

For most positions (clerks, warehouse workers, finance, maintenance workers) and most salaried positions, it would seem that the local market is entirely within Santa Barbara County and its incorporated cities. It would also include private businesses that have the same classification of workers (e.g. Vandenberg Air Force Base has thousands of these workers as both government employees and contractors).

While a building maintenance worker is a fairly common task in both the private and government sectors, police and firefighters are in a different category; these are uniquely government functions. For unique and exclusive government services like the police/fire departments it would seem that the local market is entirely within Santa Barbara County and its incorporated cities.

In Santa Barbara County, the fire department offers a starting rate of $5,044 per month for an entry level firefighter working a 24-hour shift; Santa Maria pays $5,516 per month, and Lompoc offers $5,123 for the same level of experience. Meanwhile, a deputy sheriff starts at $6,905 per month; Santa Maria pays $6,046, and in Lompoc an entry level police officer earns $5,396 per month.

So we can see that Lompoc appears to be on the short end of the stick for police and fire department compensation when compared to Santa Maria, which is just a short drive north. That could explain why so many officers and firefighters move on after only few years in Lompoc.

If the city were to increase the pay scales of police officer and firefighter positions to match those in the local labor market region, it really doesn’t cost the city more money in the long run. This is because the cost to train and develop people is so much higher in the first two years of employment, and if the city then loses a police officer or a firefighter to a nearby agency, then the city can’t recover the initial cost as they would if the employee remained with the city until retirement. 

Concurrent with that, the nearby agency can increase their pay scales because they have much lower training costs since Lompoc taxpayers have picked up the tab.

Lompoc leaders are in a tough position; the general fund is lagging on the revenue side for a variety of reasons, which is the source for police and fire department salaries; first was the loss of sales tax revenue after business closures due to government-ordered response to the COVID-19 threat. Then there is the lack of vision to bring manufacturing jobs to our city to raise the median wage level.

So trying to achieve pay equity with surrounding cities is a challenge that isn’t likely to be met any time soon. 

Ron Fink writes to the Sun from Lompoc. Send your thoughts, comments, and opinionated letters to

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