Sponsored by

Local

86 Tucson city staffers could lose jobs after not complying with COVID shot mandate

Ortega sets long-term plan to fill overall vacancies in city gov't

The city of Tucson has a new plan to tackle its staffing shortage, which is expected to get somewhat worse with the projected termination of 86 employees who failed to comply with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate by a Dec. 1 deadline.

Those expected to be fired under the policy include 22 firefighters, 30 policemen and three employees in 911 dispatch, nine in Tucson Water and four in Housing and Community Development, among others.

There are about 600 openings already in city government, but that list does not include some high-profile posts that will need to be filled.

City Manager Michael Ortega delivered a plan at last week’s City Council meeting that aims to boost retention benefits, expedite the hiring process and advertise job openings more aggressively. Ortega also said that the vaccination-related terminations will not significantly hinder the city's ability to provide services.

Tucson municipal employees are now 95 percent in compliance, Ortega’s memo to Mayor Regina Romero and members of the Council reported, which means those employees have either been fully vaccinated or have been given a medical exemption or religious accommodation to not be vaccinated.

Councilwoman Nikki Lee, whose Ward 4 covers the Southeast Side, is asking the city to hire a consultant to find how many people the city should hire to fill vacancies now and down the road. Currently, the city has about 3,300 employees.

Tucson now advertises municipal job openings in Phoenix, Flagstaff, Yuma, Albuquerque and El Paso, in addition to local postings.

The plan by Ortega suggests making changes like expediting the hiring process so that jobs will be filled within 30 days of being posted. It also suggests over-hiring, or hiring more people than what’s needed, in roles like firefighter, police officer, police dispatcher, IT and equipment operator, to have fully trained personnel ready when vacancies occur for jobs for which training can take time.

Thanks to our donors and sponsors for their support of local independent reporting. Join KXCI Community Radio, Tom Tronsdal, and Frances Valiente and contribute today!

The city has a pool of 1,500 applicants right now, said Ortega's chief of staff, Lane Mandle, and they’re offering “an incredible benefits package.” The city manager’s office is confident that those two factors will insulate them from difficulties in hiring that are affecting employers nationwide.

The city’s job board includes opening in 55 job categories. Some newly created programs need top employees, such as the city’s Office of Equity which still lacks a chief equity officer, who will get a salary of $100,564 - $125,704 — the highest-paid open position.

The Community Safety, Health and Wellness Program, which grew out of the Community Safety Pilot Program as part of an alternative to policing, still needs a director, who will be paid $72,404 - $128,377.

Other job openings include police officer recruit, firefighter recruit, city magistrate, finance administrator, IT data analyst, water control systems engineer, lifeguards, groundskeepers and cement mason. There are also 87 community service officers included in the budget this year, Mandle said.

Most of the jobs pay more than $15 per hour, with the exceptions being for temporary jobs such as fine arts class instructors or lifeguards for the Parks and Recreation Department, who are paid as low as $12.15 per hour.

Though not listed on their job board, the city is also trying to hire a director for the Human Resources Department. The director of the city’s Department of Transportation and Mobility, Diana Alarcon, is also resigning to take a new position, leaving that post open. Tucson Water will also be hiring a new director.

And Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus has been nominated to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection by President Joe Biden, likely meaning that post will soon be vacant.

Despite the number of openings, city government has "continued to provide the same level of service given lower staffing levels," Ortega told the Sentinel. "The pandemic has exacerbated this situation. Our approach on retention has been to bring all of our classifications to market rate, and now we are going to focus on staffing levels."

'Silver tsunami' of retirees

The city is also worried about a possible “silver tsunami,” Ortega told the Council. More than 800 employees are eligible for retirement right now.

“That’s significant,” he said. “To have 800 employees that can walk out the door at any given time. This could be very challenging for us.”

Sponsorships available
Support TucsonSentinel.com & let thousands of daily readers know
your business cares about creating a HEALTHIER, MORE INFORMED Tucson

City government is also competing with the private sector in a few areas. The city is competing for Environmental Services truck drivers, Mandle said, even after raising their wages by 3.6 percent to align their pay with market rates. That wage adjustment was made with other changes over the summer to pay employees prevailing rates.

The City Manager's Office will be able implement parts of its hiring plan administratively, Ortega said at the Council meeting, such as offering a student repayment program and an employee child care program as extension benefits. Other parts of Ortega’s plan, such as offering firefighter academy classes every three months instead of six to hire more firefighters more often or allowing contractors to handle city equipment will require policy changes from the Council.

The staffing shortage in the city of Tucson dates back to the 2009 recession, Mandle said, when the city started making job cuts. Since then, staff levels haven’t returned to where they were, but the city is now seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to ask where to set appropriate staffing levels — and to build up staff while addressing terminations for vaccine non-compliance.

The City Council discussed staffing shortages in specific areas such as the police and fire departments during budget discussions, but Ortega’s plan is the start of a broader drive to fill vacant positions, Mandle said.

Sworn positions like police officer and firefighter take longer to fill because they require academy classes and a swearing-in. It will take at least 18 months for the city to over-hire for the Tucson Fire Department, according to Ortega’s memo, but TFD Chief Chuck Ryan has already indicated to the city that he hopes firefighter academy classes start running every three months instead of six.

Among the city’s 1,500 applicants, 297 of them are applying to become firefighters, Ortega reported.

The city is also confident about the quality of the employees they'll hire, Mandle said.

"We will bring in qualified and excellent candidates," she said. "You have a pool of applicants as large as we do and the level of integrity that our HR Department requires for our applicants. I have no doubt we will hire excellent people."

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

- 30 -
have your say   

Comments

There are no comments on this report. Sorry, comments are closed.

Sorry, we missed your input...

You must be logged in or register to comment

Read all of TucsonSentinel.com's
coronavirus reporting here »

Click image to enlarge

Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

City Hall

Categories

news, politics & government, trans/growth, local, arizona, breaking