By Caitlin Sobsey
The Employee Advisory Council (EAC) was established by the employees of the City of Falls Church in 1973. Its main objective is to discuss policies, activities, and programs of interest to City employees and to act in an advisory capacity to the City management. The council is made up of seven elected employee members. In recent years we have participated in and contributed to such committees as the Use of Force Review Committee, the Covid-19 Committee, Benefits Committee, and Training Committee. I have served since 2019 after the passing of former Chair Gary LaPorta.
The EAC has advocated for compensation-related issues at past City Council and Town Hall meetings concerning budget reductions and compensation matters. Our 2020 work plan declared compensation a priority – addressing compensation disparities both within the organization and between the salaries of our jurisdiction and neighboring localities. We called for action by management concerning City employees who were being paid below the poverty line in the very community they serve. We emphasized the need to increase diversity and opportunity in employee growth, and expand employee benefits such as parental leave and college tuition reimbursement programs. In the last few years there has been a lot of positive progress in these areas, and this is in part due to the EAC’s continued efforts to elevate these issues. EAC members worked with a benefits committee to expand the City’s tuition program and institute a 457 matching program to incentivize enrollment. A compensation study was performed for one of the lowest paid departments, the Public Works Operations division, which yielded salary increases to bring the department up to regionally competitive levels and assured that no City employee was living below the poverty line. Parental leave was recently expanded from two weeks to six weeks.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic the EAC has continued to advocate for employee compensation and benefits. Following the announcement of the more than $3M budget surplus at the end of fiscal year 2021, the EAC requested the 3.5 percent increase that was cut from the FY21 budget be restored, and that employees’ salaries be made whole following the economic fallout from Covid-19. It has been difficult to work around the City’s financial policy that surplus money only be used for “one-time expenditures”, but the EAC has asserted that the budget cuts due to Covid-19 were an unprecedented but necessary measure, and so likewise, restoring our salaries and budgets may be an unprecedented action, but should be considered necessary. The original recommendation for the budget surplus included a one percent salary increase, a one-time bonus for employees, plus an additional “premium pay” bonus to be paid out to those employees working in-person during the shutdown. Many have applauded the employees’ efforts during this time as heroic and extraordinary, but the EAC feels the compensation offered so far has not matched these sentiments. Staffing levels are down at least 15 percent and employees continue to leave. The EAC circulated a petition requesting the 3.5 percent increase be restored, in addition to the one-time bonuses. 132 employees signed the petition in support of our request and we presented the petition and our comments to Council at the November 22nd meeting, at which City Management presented the budget ordinance for first reading. City Council members heard the EAC’s petition as well as several public comments made by City employees who were in attendance, and made a motion to bump the salary increase to 2.5 percent, and added $200,000 to the employee compensation package. We continue to work with City Management, Finance, and HR on the details of how that additional money will be deployed.
The EAC is a vehicle for City employees to feel heard and we’re proud of the work we’ve done supporting employee welfare. For me personally, as someone who grew up in the City and has multi-generational family ties here, there’s a much bigger picture to what the EAC is currently doing. Advocating for the City staff is also advocating for the City residents. Residents pay a premium to live in the Little City, and it’s not only for the schools. It’s also for the services, the safety, the community, and the programs. The employees worked tirelessly through a global pandemic to safeguard the continuity and delivery of all those things and more. Most of my colleagues did not grow up in the City, nor do they have special ties to the community. But they work as if they do. Their commitment, enthusiasm, and dedication to the people, the policy, the safety, and the vision of the Little City is the most heroic and extraordinary effort of them all. We thank the City Council for their support and hope for continued partnership and solidarity in our efforts to make the City both an amazing place to live and work.