Chicago Payroll Packed With Six-Figure Salaries

Adding to the city’s financial burdens, the number of high-paid workers ballooned by 92 percent since 2013.

The number of people making $100,000 or more from the city of Chicago almost doubled since 2013 with 4,813 employees collecting six-figure paychecks as of last March, a review of payroll data show.

The total is a 13 percent increase from last year when 4,262 workers made at least $100,000 a year and a 92 percent increase from 2013 when 2,502 people reached that threshold, according to a Better Government Association analysis of city records.

The data represents base salary rates and does not include overtime or other forms of pay. The number of city workers taking home at least $100,000 in total compensation is even higher.

While labor costs almost always rise year-to-year, the growing amount of higher paid employees puts added pressure on a city struggling to maintain services and make payments toward its underfunded pension systems. Taxpayers, meanwhile, are currently facing the largest property tax hike in history, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel this week proposed further funding pensions with higher city utility taxes.

“You should get growth every year. Overall, wages always rise,” said Andrew Biggs, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative public policy group based in Washington, D.C. “Still, that seems like a big change … because Chicago is in such dire straits financially.”

The BGA reviewed city data that was obtained through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act in March and recently published on the BGA Payroll Database, which contains salary information for public employees from more than 850 government agencies in Illinois. The review didn't include employees of the city's sister agencies, such as Chicago Transit Authority or Chicago Public Schools. 

Among the findings, according to the database, other city records and interviews:

  • Fifteen percent of the total city workforce makes $100,000 or more in base pay per year, up from 13 percent last year. While the number of higher paid workers increased, the number of total employees decreased slightly from 32,232 last year to roughly 32,007 in 2016.

  • The bulk comes from the police and fire departments, which have 1,722 and 1,570 people, respectively, making six-figure salaries. That’s a 20 percent increase from last year for both departments. The fire department has a particularly high rate: About one third of its members currently make $100,000 or more.

  • The average salary in 2016 for all city workers — from cops, firefighters and engineers to librarians, building inspectors and nurses — is about $80,223 while the median is $84,450. Total payroll for base salaries will cost approximately $2.6 billion this year.

  • The highest paid person on the city’s payroll is Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans, who makes $300,000 a year. Evans is followed by Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson at $260,000 and then Mayor Rahm Emanuel at $216,210.

  • On top of base pay, the city spent about $55.8 million on overtime from January through March of this year with $24.5 million going to the police department and $12.4 million to fire.

Top 5 base salaries in Chicago departments, from top left: Ginger Evans, Eddie Johnson, Rahm Emanuel, Jose Santiago and Richard Ford II

Five of the top base salaries in Chicago departments for 2016 are, from top left: Ginger Evans, Eddie Johnson, Rahm Emanuel, Jose Santiago and Richard Ford II.

Molly Poppe, a spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Budget and Management, said the majority of people making more than $100,000 are union members who have annual raises built into their contracts.

“Each time they get their adjustments under the collective bargaining agreements, it’s going to grow their salaries. So that’s part of it,” Poppe said.

Also contributing to the spike: non-union public safety personnel received a 5 percent increase in 2015 — which is reflected in the 2016 data — and other non-union employees got a 3 percent raise, according to Poppe.  

“They hadn’t gotten the adjustment [in prior years] and then they got that adjustment in 2015,” Poppe said. “So in 2015 you sort of had this meeting of all these different cost of living adjustments.”

The city currently has agreements with more than 40 unions, the largest being the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, which represents patrolmen and detectives, and Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, which represents firefighters and paramedics.

Dean Angelo, president of FOP Lodge 7, defended the compensation levels for police officers, emphasizing the “new level of anti-police violence.” Angelo said cops didn't get pay raises for two years until their contract was ratified in 2014.

“As the salaries increase, you see people make $100,000 or more doing a job that, especially in 2016, is not the best career choice one can make,” he said. “We are pretty comparable as far as big departments go. We are not the top, but nor are we the lowest paid.”

>> Payroll Database: Follow the money paid to public-sector employees throughout Illinois

Cops in the Los Angeles metropolitan area are paid, on average, higher than police officers in Chicago and surrounding suburbs, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor. Chicago cops edged out New York-area officers in average pay for 2015, government figures show.

Fire department spokesman Larry Langford said salaries there are high, in part, because “it’s a dangerous profession.”

The city pointed to a number of measures that have been negotiated into labor agreements under Emanuel’s tenure that Poppe said are projected to save millions of taxpayer money. Police and fire, for example, received “the second smallest wage package in more than 30 years of formal collective bargaining,” according to the city.

Tom Pleines, general counsel for the Police Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois, the umbrella organization that represents Chicago police sergeants, lieutenants and captains in separate agreements that all expired in June, said trimming labor costs is not a good approach.

“We tried doing it on the cheap,” Pleines said. “We tried to have effective law enforcement utilizing as few supervisors as we possibly can … and look where it’s gotten us. I think that approach has proven not to be a good one.”