Don’t you just love it when our City leaders preface their statements regarding the budget by saying, “like many cities these days….” Well, let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, Oakland isn’t like many cities. It is in a class by itself. How many other cities have recently used the word “bankruptcy” in the context of discussing options? How many other cities have a parcel tax to pay for the most basic service (police!) a city can provide? We stand alone. As the budget gurus will readily admit, around 75% of Oakland’s general fund is eaten up by public employee salaries. How many other cities have salaries as obscenely high as Oakland? Well, I decided to do some basic research to try to find out.
Fellow bloggers Vsmoothe at Abetteroakland.com and DTO510 have done a lot of the research for me. You can check out their posts at http://www.abetteroakland.com/oakland-employment-per-capita-1995-and-2005/2008-07-24
According to an article in the Oakland Tribune from June 14, 2003, at around that time, the Council froze the salaries of approximately 200 non-union employees (a tiny fraction of Oakland’s total work force) after raises given to then City Manager Robert Bobb and City Attorney John Russo made them the highest paid employees in their respective positions in the STATE.
The article stated that other high paid administrators were “not far behind.” The City paid a consultant $100,000 to have a salary survey conducted to compare Oakland salaries with those of other cities and the private sector. I can’t find a copy of that survey, but I’ll do a public records request and see what that turns up. (The report hadn’t been released at the time the Tribune article was published). At the time, then Councilmember Danny Wan made the (outrageous) request that before voting to unfreeze salaries, he wanted to ensure that any raises were (gasp!) performance based (!) I couldn’t find any evidence that the Trib followed up on this story, but in any event, that’s just some background history.
What’s more current and more enlightening to look at is a document you can hopefully find here
This is a 2008 “comparability Wage and Benefit” analysis which, according to an anonymous poster on ABetterOakland.com, the City is now claiming is “inaccurate” and could be removed from the internet. We shall see. The survey compared Oakland salaries to 13 other large Bay Area cities and counties. While it did not include police officers, it did compare 70 different civil service positions, ranging from a lowly “Cook III” (paid 19.44% more than the mean of neighboring cities) to a “Deputy City Attorney II” (paid 9.43% more than the mean). Of the 70 positions analyzed, a full 63(90%!) showed Oakland workers were overpaid compared to their counterparts elsewhere. Some of the numbers are truly shocking. A “Construction Inspection Supervisor” gets paid 34.52% more than the mean; a “recycling supervisor” gets 28.56% more. The vast majority are compensated at between 10-20% more than neighboring cities. The document does not specify how the survey was conducted, or what data was analyzed. For example, it doesn’t specify whether health benefits or retirement benefits were considered. It doesn’t specify whether it considered the length of the workday or workweek, or other restrictions unions may have negotiated to keep their members from working any more than they actually have to (: )) My guess is that if those factors were considered, the discrepancies in Oakland’s overly generous compensation would become even more apparent.
Another great chart to check out can be found here:
This chart analyzes City staffing and payroll and employment numbers for 1995 and 2005. Let’s compare Oakland’s numbers to our sister city, Long Beach (which is somewhat bigger, but still relevant for comparison purposes). From 1995 to 2005, Oakland’s “full time equivalent” personnel numbers jumped from 4700 to 5500. That’s a much more dramatic increase than Long Beach, that went from 5400 to 5600. On a per 10,000 resident basis, Oakland’s staffing was 138, compared to Long Beach’s conservative 119. Moreover, during that same time period, Long Beach cut its per capita staffing per 10,000 from 125 to 119; Oakland increased its from 128 to 138! From 1995 to 2005, Oakland’s total payroll costs skyrocketed, more than doubling! Long Beach only had a modest increase. And as for average monthly salaries, Oakland’s were among the highest on the list back in 1995, and by 2005, were the highest on the list, by a long shot at $7397. During that 10 year period, Oakland salaries had gone up an average of nearly 70%!
Another fun one is here:
According to Pauline, who already analyzed the data in her recent post on ABO, this chart shows average monthly earnings for the 85 largest cities in the U.S. for 2000, 2006 and 2007. In 2000 and 2006, Oakland's average monthly earnings were the highest of all 85 cities. In 2007 Oakland was the seventh highest. Pauline also notes that Oakland has 163 retired people with pensions over $100,000 ranging from $100,104 to $169,920. See
San Francisco has 40 people, San Jose has 0, Sacramento 87, and Los Angeles has 35.
Many will say that Oakland’s salary numbers are inflated by police and fire salaries, which may well be true. So to find out if Oakland police are overpaid, you can check out the chart at
This salary survey is very well put together because it compares apples to apples (just police officers, not administration) and includes all compensation, including salary ranges (minimum and maximum), health benefits, retirement, longevity pay etc. It does NOT take into consideration how much overtime they get. It is very easy to read, and makes it clear that again, Oakland is far and away the most generous in terms of both salary and total compensation. Total monthly compensation for Oakland is $9775. No other jurisdiction even comes CLOSE, except for the County of Alameda, which is at 9552. Again, comparing Oakland to Long Beach, we outspent Long Beach by a full $2221 per month, per officer. Are you starting not to wonder anymore why we’re BROKE?
More great survey data can be found at
This compares various public entities’ retiree health coverage. Of course, most employers don’t provide retiree health coverage. Mine sure doesn’t. And according to the chart, neither does Long Beach. But Oakland provides monthly premiums of $64.60, plus up to $425.42 a month in reimbursements, for a total cost of nearly $500 per month, per employee. They’re entitled to the same benefits for their spouse, making the cost closer to $1000 a month for married employees! Interestingly, however, it appears that many public sector employees and their families get similar benefits, so there’s probably not a lot of room to negotiate with the unions on this one.
Yet another chart worth checking out is at
Here you can compare Oakland’s cost of living increases with those of other public entities around the state. The chart shows that in 2006, Oakland public employees last received a 3% COLA in July, 2005, and were due to receive a 4% increase in July, 2006. None of the other public entities disclosed such generous COLA increases. By the way, unionized workers generally get paid based on a salary schedule that provides for automatic pay increases every year, regardless of the actual cost of living, and regardless of performance. So just because union workers don’t get COLA doesn’t mean they didn’t get a raise. They usually did.
Here’s a chart that compares public sector leave practices.
Oakland’s vacation leaves appear comparable to that of other cities, as does its sick leave, and time off for holidays, so I don’t see room for negotiation in this area…
If you want to check out individual salaries by name or title, Bay Area News Group does an annual survey. The 2009 version can be found here.
You’ll see that police officers can clear well over $250,000 a year, including overtime. Hey, I wouldn’t necessary want to work overtime on the mean streets of Oakland, but these numbers are just obscene!
So, if any of you reading this want to question my conclusion that Oakland civil servants are overpaid, be my guest, but please supply the link that supports your position, and I’ll be happy to take a look at it. In the meantime, I’ll consider my opinion that Oakland is paying way too much in salaries and benefits as an informed one, and will continue to lobby our officials to commit to cracking down on these problems before coming to the taxpayers for more money. Are you willing to pay more taxes so that a cook can get 20% more than they could in Berkeley? I thought not.