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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Alonzo Strickland, second from left, speaks during a Service Employees International Union press conference Tuesday. Representatives with the SEIU held a press conference to support Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly's budget on Tuesday, August 17, 2021 at the Chattanooga City Council building.

Members of Chattanooga's city labor union endorsed Mayor Tim Kelly's first budget Tuesday, celebrating his plan to increase employee pay.

Members of the local chapter of Service Employees International Union gathered ahead of Tuesday's city council meeting to rally behind Kelly's proposed budget, which will be voted on by the council in September.

"There's a lot of changes that have happened in Chattanooga since I've grown up and I've moved around and come back. And a lot of what's changed and grown has been inequality and other issues that we need to see be addressed in the city," said John Patrick Cate, a steward for the SEIU, ahead of the meeting. "And where it starts right now is in the city itself, where we can start to fix those things for the people who make the city work."

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Chattanooga union endorses budget, new minimum wage

Since 2012, SEIU has been fighting nationally and in localities to have the minimum wage raised to $15 per hour. In Chattanooga, members of the local chapter have gathered to promote the "fight for 15" at council meetings across several budget years.

In his first proposed budget, Kelly, who was endorsed by the SEIU during his campaign earlier this year, includes $30 million in additional anticipated property tax revenue to benefit employee pay across the city.

The plan includes $10 million toward the fire department, bringing the base pay of a fire cadet up 24% from $32,524 to $40,330; $10 million toward police, bringing the base pay of a police cadet up 24% from $35,141 to $43,575; and $10 million toward general government pay, which includes a $15 per hour minimum wage for city employees, pay increases averaging 18% per employee, and a previously announced 42% increase in starting pay for garbage, recycling and brush pickup drivers.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly to increase city's driver pay, expects recycling collection issue to be resolved within 60 days)

"The living wage of $15 an hour, it definitely means a lot to me and also to a lot of people in Chattanooga," Jasmine Townsend, who works in the city's homeless services division, said Tuesday among a group of about two dozen labor union members.

"I will tell you now, with the wage being the way that it is right now, a lot of city employees and people throughout the city are having to work multiple jobs," she said. "When you are working multiple jobs, that's time away from your family. And by increasing the wage, it will allow people to be able to make more memories with their families, spend more time with their kids, and to be able to dedicate more energy to the goals and dreams that they have."

Close to 20 members of the union then attended the council meeting, with three representatives addressing the council and calling for support of the proposed budget.

Council members will host public hearings on the budget Aug. 31, with registered speakers able to join via Zoom from 3-5 p.m. or in person from 6-8 p.m.

The required two votes are scheduled for Sept. 7 and 14 at 6 p.m.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or staylor@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @_SarahGTaylor.

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