1/12/17 The budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee late Wednesday (Jan. 11) held its first hearing on funding our ratified contracts and negotiated pay raises.
Committee chair Sen. John Braun of the 20th Dist. questioned how bad the state employee competitive pay crisis is. But other senators and our members hammered away using rock-solid facts and figures to make the case that the modest across-the-board raises of 6 percent over two-years starting this July help but don’t solve the competitive pay gap faced by the state as an employer.
Other senators and state budget officials said the purchasing power of state employees has declined about 10 percent in recent years, which hurts the state’s economy.
Sen. Steve Conway of the 29th Dist. said the raises need to be in the context that employee contribution rates for PERS 2 retirement benefits will go up 1.26 percent this July as well.
And Local 304 member Brooks Salazar, an eight-year employee at the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals in Seattle, agreed.
State employees went three budget cycles without a raise and the 2015 and 2016 raises help but the gap between pay raises and the regional cost of living grows “after years of neglect.”
“We hope you understand that a consequence of ignoring the rising price of doing business in state government (is) we are facing recruitment and retention problems at unprecedented levels in many vital areas of state service,” Salazar said.
Salazar told the committee that the state’s own salary survey found that 99 percent of state job classifications are below market rates. Some 66 percent of state jobs are more than 25 percent behind, and 23 percent are more than 50 percent behind market rates, he said.
“People like me, who have chosen public service for a career, are willing, and have, sacrificed in the name of the public good,” Salazar said.
Steve Segall, a disability adjudicator with DSHS in Olympia and a member of Local 443, said the lack of competitive pay has made it difficult to keep up with growing demand of disability filings.
“We can’t retain people because we don’t pay enough and it takes two and a half years to learn the job,” Segall said. “We can’t keep the people who learn the job and do it well.”
Bing Bristol, a Local 443 member in the Buildings and Grounds Division of the Department of Enterprise Services in Olympia, urged funding of the modest raises to keep good employees.
Bristol explained that his is a “division in crisis” that suffered a 15 percent cut recently “that resulted in us losing a lot of valuable employees.”
The Senate committee continues its budget hearing today on other areas of the governor’s proposed spending plan. Over in the House, the House Appropriations Committee continues its hearing on the governor’s budget plan. Both hearings start at 3:30 and you can follow them online on your free time and your own device at TVW.org.