Union says longevity raises could keep workers

Matt Hansen The lawmaker said his experience with AccessNebraska prompted him to introduce the longevity raise proposal.


NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

LINCOLN — Getting another 6 1/4 cents per hour may not mean a whole lot for state employees' paychecks.

But if given on each five year anniversary, it might be enough to slow the turnover of experienced state workers that has played a key part in several recent state scandals.

Representatives of the Nebraska Association of Public Employees, the largest state employees union, delivered that message to state lawmakers Monday, along with a petition signed by 1,280 state employees.

They urged support of Legislative Bill 896, a measure that would provide longevity pay increases for state employees.

"Current state human resource policy does not recognize longevity and value the service of long-term state employees," said Mike Marvin, the union's executive director.

"As a result we are witnessing an ongoing crisis in morale and staff across most of state government," he told members of the Business and Labor Committee.

Bo Botelho, deputy director and general counsel for the State Department of Administrative Services, spoke against the bill. He said state law and the state constitution give the governor the authority to negotiate collective bargaining agreements with state employees.

He argued that the Legislature cannot set or approve wages for executive branch employees, and he disputed reports from the union leaders that state officials had said the opposite during the 2014 contract negotiations.

But Jerry Sonnek, a union representative who works at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York, said he was in the room when the state's chief negotiator said the union would have to go to the Legislature to get approval for longevity pay.

Marvin said the state has refused to consider longevity pay or step increases as part of collective bargaining agreements since 2002.

The state contract included step increases under Gov. Ben Nelson, but the state eliminated those under the administration of Gov. Mike Johanns.

As a result, Sonnek said, raises go equally to all employees, and a person hired 10 years ago makes the same as a person hired yesterday.

The situation leads to the loss of experienced employees, he said.

Turnover among state workers has been a common thread in recent state problems, including the years of troubles at the Beatrice State Developmental Center, the problems plaguing the state's public benefits call center system known as AccessNebraska and the riots at the Tecumseh State Prison.

State Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln said he introduced LB 896 as a result of his experience on a legislative committee investigating Access Nebraska.

Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse, whose district includes the Tecumseh prison, co-sponsored the bill.

LB 896 would provide longevity pay raises for state employees, starting at 6 1/4 cents after five years and going up another 6 1/4 cents at each subsequent five-year mark. Assuming no overtime, each raise would be worth $130 a year.

The longevity increases would top out at 50 cents for 40-year employees.

Marvin said that 26 states have laws that provide for recognizing longevity among state employees. Those states include two of Nebraska's neighbors, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9583, martha.stoddard@owh.com

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