Oakland salaries higher than Bay Area averages

Update: May 2011: I no longer have the salary survey in question. All my old files were lost last year, and the City has removed the survey from their website, claiming that it is “inaccurate.” I can’t speak to whether that’s true, but at this point I would say that it would be correct to say that the survey is at least somewhat misleading when it comes to evaluating the current situation for city employees, since it dates from a time when City employees did not pay into their pensions, so those payments were added to the salary totals, and it also dates from a time when city employees had been receiving annual cost of living adjustments, which they have not for the past few years.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I posted some Census Bureau data listing employees per capita and average monthly payroll for the largest cities in the US. The chart raised quite a few eyebrows, as Oakland had by far the highest average payroll on the list. Those interested in our comparative rate of compensation may find this document (PDF) even more revealing. It compares salaries in Oakland to the median and mean of salaries for the same positions in the 13 largest cities and counties in the Bay Area, and finds that in almost every case, Oakland’s salary is significantly higher than area standards, as much as 20% higher for many positions.

But the most interesting part of the report to me was the last page, which compared Oakland’s Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) to the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) between 2002 and 2007. CPI rose 13.9% in that period, while we agreed to COLA increases totaling 24%, meaning that the City salaries increased 10.1% more than CPI. Damn.

BTW, I’m very happy to now be hosting TagamiVision here on A Better Oakland, so if you missed the interview with Kerry Hamill that went up Friday evening, make sure to watch it today!

25 thoughts on “Oakland salaries higher than Bay Area averages

  1. 94610BizMan

    That just means that Oakland city government staff is effective and efficient at their primary goal. That goal is to take as much money as possible from the productive citizens and pay it to themselves, their friends/family and patronage staff thereby increasing their power.

  2. Max Allstadt

    Is that local/regional CPI, or national, V?

    There’s an ordinance for you: tie COLA increases to CPI. The remnants of rent control are tied to CPI, no? If it’s good enough for the people, it oughta be good enough for the people who work for the people.

  3. dto510

    That’s the CPI figure provided by the city. I don’t know if there is a regional CPI. The chart that compares Oakland’s municipal workers to their peers in surrounding cities comes up with a similar overpayment figure: the median position enjoys a 12% compensation premium over the median pay of the region.

  4. Andy


    Public sector salaries seem to be out of wack at the State level as well. I used to be a State Employee, some 12 years ago. When I left, private salaries were higher, but the benefits were of course lower. Now, State salaries seem higher, and the benefits are still higher at the State.

  5. Robert

    The total adjustment is 10.1% more than the increase in CPI, the rate of increase is 73% higher for salaries than for the CPI.

  6. Max Allstadt

    From my cursory look at rent control rules, I’m pretty sure there is a regional CPI.

    I think we also really oughta compare this data with the private sector. Tree Trimmers in Oakland make over 60k a year? In the private sector, you’d have to be trimming an entirely different kint of “Trees” to make that.

  7. Max Allstadt

    That makes it all the more reasonable to question the disparity.

    One thing of note, as V has pointed out in the past, CEDA self funds. On PDF, the disparities for planners and such seem milder. Considering the self funding and the fact that we’re a little more complex than Vallejo and Berkeley in terms of planning issues, the slight premium we pay seems all the more worth it.

  8. oakie

    This is a clear indication that the unions representing city employees have enough political clout over elected officials to drive this disparity. Even the managers have unions in Oakland.

    Clear out the deficit: Turn the salaries back to 2000, allow the same annual increase as allowed in the rent control ordinance. Problem solved. Oh, and if the city employees don’t like it: they can quit. We really don’t need you.

  9. Andy

    Right on Oakie.

    I am sick and tired of the City claiming “we have no $$”. I recall reading here or elsewhere that we in Oakland pay the highest property taxes in the State – with all the fees and assessments etc. I don’t believe that people really understand that. If they did, I hope that they would be as outraged as I am.

  10. Max Allstadt

    The indication, Oakie, to me needs to be taken a little further. If only 1% of Oaklanders work for the city, and yet their unions have too much clout, it means the rest of us don’t vote enough.

  11. Donald

    It is possible to analyze the wage increases due to built in adjustments and conclude that city staff is overpaid and that it deprives the city of resources needed in other areas.

    In my view the deprivation is even greater than suggested. Why? Private sector jobs are mostly at will (only about ~15% of private sector jobs are under union contact). With a private sector job there is a much higher risk of unemployment either do to economic retreat or a failure to meet performance standards. With public sector jobs there is much greater job security because downsizing city government either for economic or performance reasons is so complicated.

    It seems to me that the risk in the private sector should carry a wage premium and, therefore, wages for public sector employees should be less than private sector employees.

  12. Jeffrey G. Jensen

    I would be okay with higher than average salaries to retain staff if we could hire and fire at will, institute pay for performance, and had higher than average customer service. My experience is that the City of Oakland has the worst customer service of any public agency. My discussions with some relatively high level managers revealed that they lack a basic understanding of the importance of customer service and the legal authorities under which they operate. Many do not understand the limits of their authority. When asked to justify a particular approach, many get upset, defensive and shut down the conversation. In my view, the staffing of City Offices often serves largely as a jobs program for people with few interpersonal skills and little knowledge of public policy and administration.

  13. Max Allstadt

    I’m starting to think that strategically, the best way to break through the problematic aspects of unions is to isolate those problems and attack them head on. At the same time, leave alone the stuff that unions do that is hard to argue with.

    Don’t attack benefits for retirement or healthcare. Insist on performance standards. Insist on realistic COLA increases. If we had leaders with some cojones, I think that the voters would actually put up with a contentious environment and even strikes and sickouts, as long as we save the city money in the long run and get an increase in performance.

    The catch, of course, is finding leadership that would be willing to duke it out.

  14. V Smoothe Post author

    Well, the last time an elected official stood up to the union, they went out and dug themselves up a dinosaur to run against him for Mayor as payback. Look how well that turned out! If voters want their representatives to stand up to the city employees, then they need to start voting for people who will do so, not those who coddle them.

  15. dto510

    To expand on what V said about the political power of unions in Oakland, Sean Sullivan had way more volunteer muscle than Nancy Nadel until about two weeks before the election, when a surge of union “volunteers” blanketed D3 with her literature. Though they didn’t live in Oakland, they were able to provide much assistance to Ms. Nadel’s reelection. A few weeks later, she led the call for another above-inflation COLA increase.

  16. Max Allstadt

    Yeah, I ran into one of those guys in Adams Point while canvassing for Sean. I was friendly and he was brazen enough to tell me he was earning hours for the union by doing it. He was from hayward. I wanted to follow him around and go to all the same doors and say “he’s from hayward, I’m from west oakland. Who do you think is more sincere?”

  17. len raphael

    in a city wide contest for say at large, where the fund raising limits might not be high enough to pay for door to door get out the vote of your supporters etc., would think the candidate w the most union free labor would have a huge advantage and owe a large debt for that assistance. but if the candidate has enough of their own money to hire the canvassers, no debt.

    union labor will not show up on any election finance reports.

  18. len raphael

    trying to guestimate how much oakland could save to bolster police. if it’s city employees were paid on the average 20% less then they currently are paid. ignoring that a big chunk of the city’s 1.07Bill budget is for non-personnel type expenses such as interest, vehicles, supplies, insurance, utilities, consultants, grants, etc. and that the police budget is 208Mill, and fire is 120Mill, that would leave 738Mill at most. That also ignores contractual and other restrictions.

    So 20% of 738Mill wb 147Mill. At say 200k/year for total wages plus benefits plus overhead for each addtl cop, that would pay for 735 more cops. If only 50% of the total 1.07Bill budget were for personnel compensation, we could still pay for 367 more cops, bringing us close to 1,070 from the 703 or so now.

    A 20% ain’t gonna happen. But with a 10% across the board compensation cut, we could add 184 cops to get to 886.

    all of this assumed a balance budget, which ain’t the case. So would have to cut programs, libraries, parks etc. to cover the 50 to 90 mill plus deficit.

  19. len raphael

    but if say 75% of the 1Bill budget went to employee costs, that’s at most a savings avail for cops of say .20x( 803Mil – 208M-120M) = 95Mill . @200k/year per addtl cop = 475 more cops.

    if only 10% pay cut, 238 more cops. Then we’d still have the deficit to cover.l

  20. Peter Hauer

    Some of your numbers are FALSE. For example, just compare Oakland Animal Control Officer pay to seven other similar agencies. (Berkeley $26.41, Contra Costa Co.$28.72, Fremont, $29.34, Hayward $26.47, Livermore $33.19, San Francisco $28.30, San Jose $26.37, for an average of $28.57 per hour (top step) HOWEVER Oakland pays $26.16 per hour, which is about NINE PERCENT LESS than these other agencies. How many other pay estimates have you messed up???? NOTE: the agencies just listed are the only ones from the CORE survey of comparable agencies that have their own animal control officers. (I did not include agencies that contract out, or that use cops or technicians for animal services.)vty Peter Hauer

  21. V Smoothe

    Peter, since you provide no sources for your numbers, it’s difficult for me to pinpoint the source of the discrepancy. Offhand, I would posit that you might have skipped the note on the data explaining that salaries listed include not just hourly wage, but also employer paid retirement contributions. I would also note that Livermore, which has by far the highest pay you cite and raises the average of your list by almost $1.50/hr, is not part of the salary survey. In any case, your anger is misplaced. As stated very clearly on the document, the information was compiled by the City of Oakland, not me. So if you want to dispute the data, you’ll have to take it up with them.

  22. Peter Hauer

    Thank you for your reply. My numbers come from visiting the city web sites I listed and reading their MOUs on line. Also, most of those cities also contribute to the emplyees retirement,a s dies Oakland. I included livermore becuase I was told my my Union that it was on the list of Core cires in the 2008 survey. If that is wrong then I will remove livermore. HOWEVER, you made a good point when you said the data for Oakland pay came from the city. I shall contact the people who put the data on the city web site. Thanks again for your reply.

  23. HowRuDoin

    So, How much does an Average BART Bus/Subway Driver make?
    I’ve searched many websites and can’t get an ACTUAL Yearly Salary!