Wanted: qualified workers -- State employees need more compensation for jobs they do

Voices of the Peninsula

Posted: Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Within the ranks of state employees as well as within the Department of Administration it is common knowledge that the state of Alaska is having difficulty hiring qualified employees and retaining qualified employees. As you look across the job openings in Work Place Alaska, you will see many jobs that have been open for months, even years.

When you look further, you find that these jobs are open for several reasons. Some are open because we do not have the ability to train our employees with the skills they need for the job. Also the pay the federal government or private sector pays far exceeds state wages. As provided by Alaska Department of Labor, the wages since 1994 through 2005 in the private sector has held relative to 100 percent when adjusted for inflation while the federal government wages has increased to almost 125 percent.

During that same time, state wages have decreased to approximately 82.5 percent. Employees also are leaving state service for better paying jobs at the federal government or in private sector.

Present state employees recognize this and so does the Department of Administration.

Some may think state employees are overpaid, but let’s take a range 8A, who would be a clerical staff or administration person that every organization needs. Their annual pay would be $24,000 gross. And we all know what happens to that pay once deductions are factored in.

Let us assume they take it all home. That breaks down to $2,000 a month. Realtors will tell you that you should spend no more than 25 percent of your salary on housing. Now you can imagine this person has available $500 for rent or mortgage. How can we expect a family to live at this level without the aid of any social programs we all are paying for?

The state is now in negotiations with several of the unions representing state employees. They consider their proposal to be modest. If this employee accepted their proposal, it would result in fewer take home dollars every year than they are presently taking home. This loss is a result in the increase of health care cost.

When you talk to state employees, they are here to serve the public and want to provide the services the public has asked for. But they also want a wage they can live on without having to work another job or two. These employees also live in the communities where they work, and it is common knowledge the money is spent in your community is spent seven to 10 times over.

State employees wages are at a point where they can no longer hire or retain quality employees. Now is the time to recognize that need and to adequately compensate them for the work they perform. In turn, it will help them in the recruitment and retention of qualified state employees.

Jerry Farrington is a rural negotiator for the Alaska State Employees Association. He lives in Soldotna.

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