A San Jose councilmember who criticized county officials for awarding government workers COVID bonuses approved similar payments for city employees.
The San Jose City Council earlier this summer approved a one-time pandemic bonus of $1,000 for each full-time employee in Unit 99—a category of city workers that includes department heads and senior staff, such as the chief of police, fire division chief, city manager, city attorney, budget director and council aides. In August, the city approved identical bonuses for city engineers, architects and legal workers.
In total, the city approved bonuses totaling $2,769,250, according to public records.
Councilmember Matt Mahan, who joined his colleagues in approving these bonuses, recently rebuked the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for awarding COVID hazard pay to 22,000 county workers. He created a website to show residents how the money could have been spent on roads, housing and other critical projects.
Mahan said he doesn’t object to hazard pay for public sector workers who put their lives on the line—nurses and other public health care workers. But he did object to the county using $76 million in federal relief money to pay $2,500 bonuses to office workers, some of whom teleworked during the pandemic and already earn high wages.
Mahan told San José Spotlight that it’s not useful to compare the two bonuses—city and county—because the county used federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“It’s really important to stress that when a one-time bonus is negotiated as part of a union contract, it’s negotiated against a bunch of other considerations, including base pay and other benefits,” Mahan said. “It’s often actually advantageous for the city or an employer to do a one-time bonus rather than a base pay increase. And (ours) wasn’t with ARPA fees.”
San Jose awarded bonuses to employees in Unit 99, the Association of Legal Professionals, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 101, the Association of Engineers and Architects and the City Association of Management Personnel, IFPTE, Local 21.
Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers Association, told San José Spotlight that Mahan is being hypocritical because the San Jose general fund contains COVID-19 relief dollars.
“The budget messages are very clear that they’re taking federal COVID aid and putting it in the general fund,” Saggau said. “Where does he think contracts get paid out of? The general fund. This is a really appalling lack of understanding of how a city budget works.”
San Jose received $212 million in federal COVID funding in March 2021 and is preparing next month to address how to spend remaining monies. Mahan said he wants the city to use those dollars for various projects to improve San Jose, including creating jobs for homeless individuals, expanding access to childcare and helping small businesses recover from the pandemic.
“I certainly will not be voting for a proposal to simply give an across-the-board bonus to everyone at the city,” Mahan said.