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Show Us The Money, Say Disgruntled State Workers

Thu., Oct. 2, 1997, midnight

Wileen Anderson, a 17-year employee at the University of Idaho, has a lot of problems with the way the state pays its people.

Employees go years without cost-of-living adjustments, new people enter offices with higher salaries than many veterans, and there’s no money available for people who have earned raises through hard work and dedication. When the Legislature does allocate some money for state workers, Anderson said, it doesn’t provide any guidelines for how it should be spent, so most of it doesn’t trickle down to the employees who need or deserve it most.

“Some of us have been here year after year and are making about the same as when we started,” Anderson said. “There’s no incentive to do anything but keep your job.”

Anderson is part of a three-person task force at the UI that recently studied the salaries of state classified employees at eight Idaho agencies, including UI. Classified employees are generally paid hourly and are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, unlike salaried, exempt-status employees.

Anderson, along with Jane Baillargeon and Jerry Swenson, had already been studying the classified salary issue informally for years as members of the staff affairs committee, Anderson said. When money originally tabbed for state pay raises was raided by the Legislature last session to pay for flood relief, they realized they would have to make a better pitch to start getting a fair shake in the fight for state money.

When lawmakers started getting letters and e-mail from upset state employees during the session, Anderson said they seemed honestly surprised.

“They didn’t realize we were paying attention, or would react to it,” Anderson said.

When lawmakers suggested state employees should be thankful for the Legislature’s generosity in the past, sometimes approving 5 percent boosts in funding, Anderson said they hadn’t designed the increases in any way that helped state workers. She would have liked more specifics built into the program, directing 3 percent of the money to cost-of-living raises for all employees and the remaining 2 percent for merit-based raises and salary-equity adjustments.

The study shows the inability to give raises to long-time employees has led to a glut of entry-level salaried employees. In 1994, 27 percent of UI employees were at entry-level wages, and stayed there for about two years before beginning the move to a market average salary. In 1996, 36 percent of employees were around entry-level in salary, and it took four years to start moving up. In 1994, 33 percent of employees had made it to 100 percent of average market salary, most within 3.6 years of starting, whereas in 1996, only 26 percent were at the average amount for their job description, and it took them an average of 11.9 years to get there.

“It takes five years now just to get to the starting salary of two years ago,” Baillargeon said.

Anderson said the lack of money not only affects employees’ checkbooks, but their work quality as well.

The task force hopes to team up with other agencies in the study to show the 1998 Legislature it needs to make sure state classified employees get at least a regular cost-of-living raise, and at best, some incentive to do a better job.

xxxx Study Who was studied: The state departments of employment, law enforcement, transportation, health and welfare and the Tax Commission plus the University of Idaho, Boise State University and Idaho State University. What it showed: It takes state employees much longer to reach the average market salary for a particular job, as determined by the Idaho Personnel Commission’s survey of similar jobs in similar markets.

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