Milpitas Councilmember Karina Dominguez wants to eliminate salaries and health benefits for her and her colleagues and level the playing field for part-time city workers.
Dominguez posted the idea on Facebook on Sunday and plans to introduce it during Tuesday’s City Council meeting for future consideration. She told San José Spotlight she thought of the idea after speaking with part-time city employees such as crossing guards who don’t receive benefits through the city.
Milpitas councilmembers are not full-time employees, but still receive a stipend of about $900 a month—the mayor receives $1,130. They also receive health benefits, reimbursement for transportation and $5,000 a year for training-related expenses, Dominguez said.
“I realized that our system is different for elected officials than our own city employees,” Dominguez told San José Spotlight. “I don’t believe that it’s fair that politicians get different compensation than our own employees who are hard-working, and many of them have these part-time jobs because they can’t afford to live in Silicon Valley.”
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The San Jose metro region is the second most expensive place to rent in the nation, with many in the workforce making more than the minimum wage but falling short of affording market-rate rent. The wealth gap is widening as well, with service workers in Silicon Valley making an average of $31,000 compared to the average annual income of $170,000 for all residents. The top quarter of Silicon Valley earners account for 92% of the region’s wealth, according to a report by Joint Venture Silicon Valley.
Dominguez said she is sympathetic to councilmembers who may rely on the stipend or benefits, but added the situation is no different than other part-time city workers.
“It’s not minimizing the situation of my peers, but it’s bringing equity to our employees,” Dominguez said. “Because if the leadership at the top is getting it, then we should give it to our employees with a different title with the same amount of classification, which is the part-time status.”
Other Bay Area cities provide a stipend and/or some benefits to councilmembers, though the figure is usually lower in smaller cities where councilmembers are not full-time employees. Councilmembers in Campbell make $717 per month and receive a $150 monthly car allowance, while Los Gatos councilmembers get $500 a month. In Sunnyvale, the second-largest city by population in Santa Clara County behind San Jose, councilmembers make about $2,500 a month and receive medical benefits.
In San Jose, the mayor and councilmembers are full-time employees. Mayor Sam Liccardo’s annual salary is $200,000, while councilmembers make $131,320.
Warren Wettenstein, president of the Milpitas Chamber of Commerce, told San José Spotlight that eliminating benefits wouldn’t make too much of an impact on the council or the city because councilmembers could get insured through their full-time positions.
“I don’t think it’s going to have a ripple effect other than giving elected officials a little more flexibility,” said Wettenstein, who describes himself as a full-service independent insurance broker. “They might have full-time jobs that provide benefits, and currently it’s redundant. They don’t need two health plans.”
Fresh look at part-timers
Dominguez, elected to the council in 2018, said providing benefits to part-time employees is “not feasible,” so the “most common sense solution” would be to make the situation equal for all classified part-time employees.
Dominguez said since funds for councilmember stipends are already allocated in the city budget, she’s proposing setting up individual funds for councilmembers to use for their own ideas—such as donating to nonprofits or initiating a city service—without needing council approval, citing the need to “take politics out of the process of funding ideas.”
Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran told San José Spotlight he appreciates Dominguez’s proposal and will keep an open mind about best practices, but said cities offer insurance for elected officials because of the potential risks of the job.
Tran claimed if a councilmember was severely injured in a car accident on the way to a city event, Milpitas would be liable for their medical costs—though Wettenstein added any treatment for injuries that happen to a city employee while on city business is covered under workers’ compensation.
Tran added he would be willing to have a “reasonable discussion” about potentially providing insurance to part-time employees.
“We should be focusing on advocating for those employees to get insurance rather than taking it away from councilmembers. The argument is a little backwards there,” he said.
The Milpitas City Council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Contact Eric He at firstname.lastname@example.org or @erichejourno on Twitter.
This story will be updated.
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