Vol. 17, No. 6 November 2, 2000 Issue

Efforts to study pay disparity under way

By Julie Rausch

Paper outlines classified employees’ position

In addition to requesting a cost-of-living adjustment to reflect increases in the consumer price index, the position paper of the Kansas Council of Classified Senates includes the following requests:

• Continue funding the 2.5 percent step increase.

• Add at least two steps to the top of the pay matrix.

• Support continued funding of longevity bonuses. Adjust the bonuses from $40 per year of service to $80 per year of service, and increase the cap from $1,000 to $2,000 for employees with 25 years of service.

• Subsidize health insurance payments for those employees who opt to retire before age 65.

• Initiate legislation to reduce the vesting period in the state retirement system from 10 years to five.

The state Division of Personnel Services announced in October that a pay study is being done on whether there are significant pay disparities between state salaries and market value salaries, according to Mike Turner, WSU’s director of human resources.

They are going to start with the clerical series followed by maintenance and trades, then information technology and so on, said Turner.

They will update job specifications for each classification, then do statewide salary surveys for each category. No completion timetable was given for the pay study.

The last comprehensive classification and job rate study by the Division of Personnel Services was done about 14 years ago. Turner said to his knowledge, there hasn’t been a market survey update since then.

The hope is that the data will show the Legislature how outdated state salaries have become, resulting in a pay plan overhaul.

"It’s important to understand that there’s no money from the Legislature to fund a plan, but at least with a new pay study we’ll have the data to show the Legislature that state employees are below the market value in many of its classifications," said Turner.

Turner says low salaries are contributing to too much turnover among classified employees at WSU. "Some people are getting substantial pay increases for going somewhere else," he said.

Between January and August, 58 classified employees voluntarily left their positions, according to human resources staff. Fourteen of those had 10 or more years’ experience, 14 had five-10 years, 12 had two-five years, and 18 had less than two years.

"Fourteen people with 10 years plus walking out the door in eight months’ time – that hurts," Turner said.

"Although on exit interviews the primary reason given for leaving is seldom listed as pay," Turner said, "it’s significant that many of those people checked pay as being low."

Some state employees are losing purchasing power – literally, said Turner. State employees received no cost-of-living increase for fiscal year 2001. For 6.6 percent of WSU’s classified employees that meant not getting a raise at all because they are at the top of the pay matrix, unless they are eligible for longevity pay. It’s projected that 16 percent of WSU’s classified employees will top out in two years and nearly 25 percent will top out in four years, with the current matrix.

Turner said he thinks that the Kansas Council of Classified Senates is on target when requesting a cost-of-living adjustment that reflects the increase in the consumer price index. The council has made that its number one priority in its position paper for the Legislature this year. The index is a measure of changes in the retail prices of a constant marketbasket of goods and services.

Turner said that in the short term, requesting a cost-of-living increase is a good interim measure because if the Legislature grants a COLA, at least everyone will get it.

WSU’s Classified Senate hopes to show how much costs have risen on goods and services compared to cost-of-living increases over the past 10 years, said David Fyfe, senate president.

According to the research the senate has done so far, in the past 10 years the COLA has risen 9.5 percent while the CPI has increased about 20 percent, said Fyfe.

During the 1999 legislative session there was a major push to launch a plan to revamp the state employee pay system implemented in 1939. House Bill 2522 would have abolished the current pay plan matrix that sets the pay for 24 pay grades with 15 steps in each grade. Under the proposed plan, raises would have been contingent on performance.

The plan was based on a state classification and compensation study completed in 1998 by an independent firm hired by the state.

A barrage of protests from representative state employee organizations and state lobbying groups during the 1999 session was instrumental in the bill’s failure. Concerns included a lack of existing employee evaluation criteria, that managers are not adequately trained to perform evaluations, and that no money was set aside by the Legislature to fund a new pay system. Since that plan was derailed, the Legislature has taken no action to offer alternative plans. State salaries continue to depreciate.

In tandem with following the pay study results as they become available and urging classified employees to let their representatives know they are keenly awaiting the state’s data, Turner advocates looking at various pay plans.

He and his staff are researching several pay plan options, and he will present them to the Classified Senate at future meetings. Turner said he hopes that all regents universities can come to an agreement on one pay plan.

"If you get a critical mass of employees who say ‘This is the way we want it to go,’ you have a much better chance of enacting change," Turner said. "We hope the Legislature would consider appropriating funds to bring wages on par with the private sector if it is proven that there is a disparity between state salaries and the marketplace."

Fyfe also is urging classified employees to be informed on issues that affect their livelihood and to contact their elected representatives to let them know they need a significant cost-of-living increase this year.

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