State employees plead with Montana legislators for pay raise

2013-01-24T06:00:00Z 2013-02-18T17:54:40Z State employees plead with Montana legislators for pay raiseBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Misoulian State Bureau missoulian.com

HELENA – A state motor vehicle title and registration worker from Deer Lodge pleaded with legislators Wednesday to raise her pay.

“To be plain and simple, we are here to ask you for a raise – something we haven’t had in five years,” said Karen Haubbert told the House Appropriations Committee. “While the cost of living has steadily increased, our salaries have stayed the same.“

She added, “We cannot afford to go to the movies or out to dinner with our families or to make upgrades to our homes.“

Haubbert said she has worked for the bureau for more a decade, but makes $9.90 an hour. That’s only 85 cents an hour more than someone who just started working at the bureau two months ago, she said.

What’s more, higher payroll taxes and health insurance premiums now take an additional $100 a month from her paycheck monthly.

House Bill 13 calls for 5 percent raises in base pay for state employees in each of the next two years, but Haubbert said she’d like to see workers get a cost-of-living increase on top of that.

Steve Eckels, a mental health worker and former correctional officer at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, told of a pregnant colleague who was leaving work but was called to help an inmate. The prisoner was so upset he spat in her face and gave her hepatitis C, which required months of treatment.

“Mothers and fathers (working there) qualify for state aid,” Eckels said. “They’re subject to feces and urine tossed at them. Female officers are constantly exposed to inmates that flash them.“

Correctional officers start at $12.57 an hour at the prison, he said.

Tami Ellis, a Montana Highway Patrol dispatcher for 10 years, told the committee she is a single mother with four kids, two of whom want to attend college.

“My only hope was to take a second job,” she said. So Ellis gets up at 3:30 a.m. to deliver newspapers every day before reporting to work.

“When we decided to do the state a favor (in 2009) and not ask for a raise, we’re patted on the back and told, ‘It was so nice of you to rebuild the coffers,’ ” she said. “Can’t you do the same for us?”

They and other state workers, union leaders, university presidents, the commissioner of higher education, representatives of Gov. Steve Bullock and some other statewide officials stood up for the pay raise bill.

In all, 25 people testified for the bill, while no one opposed it. The committee didn’t vote on the bill immediately.

***

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kathy Swanson, D-Anaconda, called the bill “long overdue.” State workers in her district make so little that they qualify for reduced price school lunches and qualify for mostly free health coverage for children in low- and middle-income families.

“This is your opportunity to tell state workers they have worth,” she said.

The pay deal was negotiated last summer by the administration of then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer and representatives of public employee unions. It came after the 2011 Legislature rejected a pay plan negotiated by Schweitzer and unions to raise pay by 1 percent and 3 percent over two years. In 2009, state workers agreed to a pay freeze when state tax revenues plunged during the recession, with those making less than $45,000 receiving a one-time $450 payment.

Paula Stoll, the governor’s chief labor negotiator and administrator of the state Human Resources Division, said federal Labor Department statistics show federal and local government workers and privates sector workers in Montana have received pay raises over the same period.

State employees are retiring at record rates, she said, and the turnover rate is 13 percent in the executive branch.

Base pay in the executive branch of state government trails the private sector and government employees in the neighboring states by 14.5 percent. Even if the 5 percent and 5 percent raises are approved, state employees will trail the regional market in pay by 12.2 percent, Stoll said.

“Montana is no longer competitive at either end of the pay scale,” she said.

She said about half of executive branch employees received pay raises under the separate broadband pay plan in fiscal 2012, mostly in the lower-paying bands.

A record number of employees are being forced to take second jobs, she said, and that is accompanied by low morale.

“We’re at a precipice,” Stoll said.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Charles S. Johnson can be reached at (406) 447-4066 or at chuck.johnson@lee.net.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. glacierdude
    Report Abuse
    glacierdude - January 25, 2013 9:35 pm
    I'm cryin' crocodile tears. Because of governmenty bloat, lies and inefficiency coupled with a SERIOUS lack of knowlege from actual EXPERIENCE virtually ALL in the private sector haven't gotten even a sniff of a raise in pay since the turn of the century. As far as benefits........there haven;t been full benefits in 20 years nor partial in 15 years. Yet the state and federal employees continue to b itch. Well....b itch on, but get used to it just like the rest of us.
  2. piedpiper
    Report Abuse
    piedpiper - January 24, 2013 6:50 pm
    State employees serve the citizens of this great state. Their work is criticized unless or until you benefit from their service. State employees get raises based on politics and politicians. They also get their salaries, new hiring, budgets frozen by these same politicians. Yet they continue to go to work and pick up the slack.

    No one seems to call to say what a great job someone does. No one notices that state workers bring their own tissues, coffeepots filters and grounds, break room supplies, etc. to work. State workers do not get bonuses, incentive checks, floating holidays, and other small morale boosters that are in the private sector. Yet, their work is under the microscope.

    It is not a war between private and public employees people. Only the highest people on the ladder keep up with inflation. The middle class ( public and private) is way behind!


  3. refugee
    Report Abuse
    refugee - January 24, 2013 5:24 pm
    ah yes, divide and conquer!
  4. oswarped
    Report Abuse
    oswarped - January 24, 2013 11:23 am
    Welcome to what the private sector has had to deal with for years! Wait till you have to deal with a roll back on wages with the promise that when things get better we will catch up. Live with it as the private sector does!
  5. Dub
    Report Abuse
    Dub - January 24, 2013 10:37 am
    Interesting that they can plead their case to the legislature--why can't the people of Missoula County get on our knees and beg for a small chance at prosperity by getting rid if the like of James McCubbin and the other anti growth/job/freedom bureaucrats at the county level. They are killing us with oppressive regulations and they just smile and blame everything on the state.
  6. Jacko22
    Report Abuse
    Jacko22 - January 24, 2013 8:57 am
    So the state workers have to put up with the same stuff as the private sector workers who pay their salaries in this terrible economy. Boo hoo.
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