Should government workers accept a wage freeze?

Has your salary been frozen?

MPR’s Tim Pugmire has a story today with union reaction to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s call for a wage and benefit freeze on state workers and teachers.

“What’s crazy about that kind of a statement, any compensation savings when we’re in as much financial trouble as the state of Minnesota is in, will not protect personnel,” Jim Monroe, who heads one of the several unions in Minnesota state government said. “Those savings will then be diverted to another area of the budget to plug that hole in the dike.”

According to a recent report in unemployment, government work was a comparatively safe place to be during this period of massive job losses. But in January, the unemployment rate among people associated with state government dropped 2.1%.

But the government “industry” is projected to lose only .6% of its jobs in the state (2,642 jobs) in 2009.

But, unlike private industry, the CEOs of state government are proposing a wage freeze that could extend for years. A bill at the Capitol would prohibit and wage increases for any government workers until the middle of 2011.

If this all sounds familiar, Gov. Pawlenty proposed the same wage freeze during the last budget ‘crisis’ in 2003.

  • MR

    This looks like an initial negotiating position.

    My guess is that the ending position will be that workers get no cost of living increases but will still get step increases based on time worked.

  • Paul Proteus

    It’s selfish but, if I don’t get a raise this year why should anyone else? Anything that saves the state money seems like a good idea.

  • Joyce

    The problem with a wage freeze that is in effect until the middle of 2011 is that chances are that many of the best employees will leave their state jobs during that time. Fuel and food costs will likely increase. That’s a long time to ask state employees to go backwards in their compensation. Employees with talent will head out to private industry once the economy springs back leaving just the mediocre employees to run our state agencies. A one year wage freeze would allow both sides to react to the economy realities as they happen.

  • Kirk

    Why is it that state workers or at least their bosses feel they are above the fold. While everyone else is getting laid off, pay frozen, or hours cut, suddenly if uncle sam is signing your paycheck, you are exempt from the economy…

  • Paul

    The problem is that wages freezes actually translate into wage cuts. Pawlenty isn’t just asking for wages freezes he’s also mucking around with benefits, health and retirement.

    As for being selfish, you may want to ask yourself whether or not it’s in your best interest to underpay the people who protect your food supply, or maintain your bridges, plow and di-ice your roads, put out your forest fires, and a hundred other things your not even aware of unless something goes wrong. And before you talk about how you pay the salaries of state workers stop for a second and ask yourself where the money in your paycheck comes from. Whadya think your company has a money tree in the basement? Who pays your salary?

  • MR

    I’d be more inclined to support a total wage freeze if the government actually paid competitive wages with the rest of the market. Government workers realize that the tradeoff that they take for getting paid fairly significantly less than private industry is that they get better benefits, more job security, and small (though consistent) wages.

    It’s already difficult to attract talented people to government work (simply because the base wage is so much less), and now we want to make it less appealing? That only makes sense if you enjoy complaining about government incompetence and inefficiency.

  • Lee

    Many state workers have already been laid off or had their hours cut. The question is whether they should ALSO be forced to take a 2-year+ pay freeze.

    I think that would be fine if every worker in the state, both private and public, was forced to take a pay freeze until July 1 of 2011.

    Oh, wait … that’s right … this would only apply to public employees.

  • Bob Collins

    Yeah, that’s why I’m asking if people have had their salaries frozen. My general sense is that people who work in private business — or at least those not represented by unions — already have had their wages frozen, so that maybe it’s not a case of government workers going first.

    But I don’t know for sure. anyone?

  • David

    I would say that MR is correct and that Kirk needs to also realize that public employees do take less compensation than if they worked for the private industry in order to have minuscule increase through all times. Won’t ever see ‘public” employees getting big “bonuses” when times are “good” like in the private sector. Now this is all public info but compare the average MN public employee wage increase over the last 6 years (0,0,2%,2%,3.25%,3.25%)=1.7% to the COLA (1.4%,2.1%,2.7%,4.1%,3.3%,2.3%)=2.65%

    for Social Security((http://www.ssa.gov/cola/automatic-cola.htm). You will also see that it is 5.9% for 2009. Another thing to point out is that while many believe that public employees receive a step increase in addition to any wage increase, this is not true. For one thing a step increase is not guaranteed, it’s based upon performance expectations (similar to supported merit based pay for teachers T-Dog likes to mention). The other piece is that over 50% of professional public employees (OT, TR, Psychologist, Chaplains, SW, Scientist, DNR) are at the top of the scale so no more performance based pay for them (hence the need for step increase to retain valuable workers). And it’s not an age thing either, I’m 30, have been a public employee for 4 years and will max out on my steps next year. If serving our Vets was not important to me, what incentive would there be for me to stay another 30+ years? Sure a 5% cut for T-Dog out of his $120,000 may mean less traveling out of state (yeah right) or from Carol Molnau’s $78,000 (remember the Lt. Gov?) but a pay freeze for many public employee means not getting teeth fixed, avoiding doctors visits, buying groceries (gave up eating out long ago and Legislature’s daily per diem is more than many families weekly grocery bill). The real issue we have here is that those elected have mismanaged all of our taxpayer dollars and now it’s the blame game. After the last “deficit” what made T-Dog think doing the same thing (policy wise) would offer a different result?

  • joe

    Any comparison between public employees and private sector employees is ludicrous. The pay scale is totally different especially when the economy is thriving. Public employees don’t see bonuses or material pay hikes when the economy is good. Why should public employees accept a wage freeze when times are bad and accept minimum raises when times are good? It should be a gradual incline on the pay scale regardless of what the economy looks like. Public employees accept a smaller pay scale for above decent benefits. Private employees wage history is like a bouncing basketball. When the economy is up, their wages are up and when the economy is down, their wages reflect it. In the long run, it should all balance out.

  • Jason

    State workers with college degrees are dramatically underpaid compared to those in the private sector. If the State wants the hire and have the best workers looking out for the citizens, they should be treated better. Otherwise, we should all move to Mississppi.

  • Barb

    I have a 4 year degree and I make a decent wage working for the State, but I never get a bonus, and when I reach the top of my wage scale – that’s it…unless we get a cost of living bump. The reality is that the last contract contained a 3.25% increase for each of the two years – and it was the best contract we have had in many years. The governor is also discussing layoff for State workers, so we are not immune.

    I could easily make 20% more in private industry, but I like my job and the way in which our department helps all Minnesotans. I hope the economy turns around soon for all of us. For now, let the unions negotiate our contract. To do otherwise is nothing short of Union busting.

  • Ron

    I can’t add much more than anyone else, except to say that a wage freeze on state employees is PERMANENT! There is no making it up when the economy gets better (we’ve heard that one before). There is also a study that was done showing how far state wages are behind the private sector, a wage freeze makes the situation worse. Lastly, any salary savings won’t be budget savings, Governor “2012” Pawlenty will spend it elsewhere.

  • Duke Powell

    I am a public employee who believes all public sector workers need to have their wages frozen for the next 2 years. I also don’t buy the argument that public employees are generally underpaid when compared to the private sector. Their job security is also more solid.

  • Joel

    While we haven’t officially had our wages frozen (yet) we have lost overtime pay and our 401k matching has been stopped. I would not be surprised if wages were frozen or reduced before too long.

    I know many others out there who have had their wages frozen or reduced as well.

  • Furd

    Like Duke, I’m a public employee as well. Unlike Duke, I don’t believe public employees “need” a wage freeze. I’m at the top of the wage scale in my State of Mn classification, been here almost 21 years now. The bottom line is, with the modest wage hikes of the last several years, combined with increases in direct benefit costs and inflation, I have experienced a wage DECREASE for the last several years. My purchasing power has gone down, I don’t eat in restaurants anymore, and I won’t be replacing my beater car anytime soon. I really love my job and working directly with and helping the citizens of this state with the services I provide; however I’ve seen the writing on the wall and have gone back to school so I can better claw my way out of this thankless enterprise. I’d like to think I could keep working for the state and serving my clients as I have done for the last 20+ years; I simply can’t afford the poor wages any longer.

  • Bob Collins

    Furd: If you don’t mind my asking, how much do you make?

  • Michelle

    I don’t think state employee should take a wage freeze. Let’s not forget the “forgotten” promise of Arnie Carlson when we took a freeze during his reign in state government. Also let’s not forget that many business people have reaped the benefits for those “fat years” and state workers didn’t get huge bonuses or comissions (and actually didn’t even keep pace with the Cost of Living!) So I wish the general public would stop making us feel bad for having a job! We all make choices in our jobs and careers. Don’t punish the people who work in government! I agree with Barb’s comments above. Let the unions negotiate the contract.

    Why don’t people talk about federal workers taking a freeze?

  • Bob

    I am a state employee since 1979. I have been in my present position since 1983. I take pride in my work and care alot about the service I provide. Since 1983, I have earned from $10,000 to $15,000 less PER YEAR than my private sector counterparts. Since 1983, that means I have given up from $260,000 to $390,000 in wages. Obviously that’s a significant amount of money. Should I invite a wage freeze for two years on top of this? You decide.

  • Huh

    I currently work for the State, and have been in public service since 1995 (county and city). I was laid off in 2003 under Pawlenty’s last round of big spending cuts. As a result, I went back to school, got a graduate degree, and became a licensed professional. I stayed in the same field (criminal justice system).

    However, due to wage freezes and contracts negotiated with modest wage increases, I actually earn less today than I did in 2003. It’s a difference of $3 an hour, which equals about $6000 a year less than I used to make almost 6 years ago. Definitely hasn’t kept up with the rising cost of living. Yeah, it’s my choice, because I love the work that I do and there isn’t a private sector counterpart.

    Just wanted to give an example from the experience of one state worker. When it comes to a wage freeze until 2011, no thanks. I’m still hoping that “everything’s on the table” to resolve the budget crisis.

  • Mary Edgerley

    I have worked with many dedicated people within the Department of Corrections since early in 2000. As Chemical Dependency Therapist’s we provide opportunities for change in an extremely challenging environment. Often we are less than full staffed, job openings remain unfilled even in an environment of high unemployment. Ours is not an easy job; it requires dedication, often listening to life stories filled with pain, addiction, and abuse. It is not a job for everyone. My co-workers and I are dedicated and believe in everyone’s right to change. Like so many others that have responded, our ability for ‘pay increases’ is constantly under the microscope. So many people would prefer to “lock ’em up and throw away the key.” An easy answer to a very complicated problem. My co-workers and I help individuals (in many instances) to reconnect with families and loved ones — and go on to build a useful life. We believe people can change. We believe that even “people in prison” deserve quality services, care, and concern. We will do our jobs and continue to help those that may turn to alcohol and/or drugs in this time of chaos. If your family member should get into trouble, we will be there for them as well. We have worked hard to complete our education and maintain our license to help others — we pay for these ourselves — the “state” does not. Our minor pay increases help us to pay for the priviledge to work. For You. For Others.

  • Dan Vogel

    A wage freeze won’t get many state employees to quit. What it will do is discourage younger workers from choosing a career in state government. Currently 50% of state employees will retire in the next 10 years. Most new hires that I see are older workers who have been dumped by private industry. If you want to shrink government so you can drown it in a bath tub, I can’t think of a more effective way of doing it than by reducing the workforce. Remember that at some point you will cut enough staff so an organization will no longer be viable. That point is not when 100% are gone. It might be when 50% are gone. We might be watching over the end of state government within the next 10 years. There still will be government services but they will be supplied by private corporations. We are heading back to the days when all government jobs will be patronage contracts.

  • Lynn

    The reason that a wage freeze really hurts state workers is they make less money than their counterparts in the private industry. While having a state job feels more stable, it definitely pays less that it would in the private sector. An entry level position w/ a private company may pay as much as 15.00 per hour, with only a high school education. With the State, a college degree and experience will get you 16.00 an hour. Eventually, the economy will turn around and all those people who work in the private sector will move on and not give a second thought to the state workers who will continue to make less. It is the trade off both parties agree to when they take their respective jobs.

  • JR

    I’ve been in state government for 15 years. One of the reasons I came here from the private sector was that my job disappeared when the company was bought out.

    An important point that gets lost in the debate is that I don’t worry about coming to work and seeing an e-mail that says that the State of Minnesota was sold last night to the State of South Dakota.

  • BT

    The most constructive discussion of this topic is missing in most comments. This is, how do we keep the highest number of people employed and move our economy forward.

    Trying to compare and contrast pay whether you are in the public sector of private is irrelevant. Perhaps we need to understand that it is a zero sum game. In effect, we are an island economy and need to work together to find constructive solutions – within this context the pay freeze topic is valid.

    If private sector jobs have fallen off, there are less taxes to create revenues to pay for public sector jobs. If there are less public sector jobs, there are less essential services necessary to support our citizens. In total it is a great system.

    I am amazed at the petty discussions on all of the blogs – especially our police, educators and other leaders whom I respect. We are all to aware of all of our fellow citizens that have lost jobs – not by their own doing and yet when we have a public sector job we somehow feel we are to be excluded from the problem and the solution.

    Instead of trying to blame, diffuse or draw comparisons that clearly show how little we all know about each others salaries, consider employment without pain or suffering.

    If you do not live beyond your means now, a pay freeze is the least invasive contribution you can make. If you live beyond your means, it is a problem that only you can solve.

    I would like for once see a dialouge with solutions where we help one another rather than think about ourselves – which is even hard to me to do.

  • Cheryl

    Does anyone realize that only 4% of the State budget is paid in state employee salaries? How much is the state actually going to save by freezing our salaries and laying off the proposed 1,100 state employees? It barrels down to public perception. If the Gov. lays off state employees, it appears that the state is saving money. In fact, what is happening is that the jobs the state employees do will be given to the private sector. That is what happened in 2003. I would like the public to be outraged by the money the state is funneling into the private sector. I can tell you it costs much more for consultants to do the work of state employees than it did when the state employees did it. Why should the budget be balanced on the backs of the state employee? We didn’t cause this problem but are asked time and again to “sacrifice.” Give me a break. Since I have been a state employees I have been forced to go on strike, go through a lay-off and go through a state govt. shut down. Now we are threatened with more layoffs. Don’t tell me about job security. It doesn’t exist.

  • Roy

    Leave salaries to be determined within negotiations, not in the Legislature.

  • Les

    I don’t know where this idea of gov’t job = security came from. I have B.S. & M.S degrees & have worked ~12yrs in my profession. I’ve worked for private contract companies to gov’t, & in all levels of gov’t: local (city/county), state, & fed. You might wonder why I’ve held so many positions in or related to gov’t in such a short span. The private company lost the gov’t contract & another company got it: open, competitive contracting process is good. Having to compete for your own position with the new company, with no “public-style” negotiation of benefits, & instead having to start at ground-floor again (salary, vacation accrual, etc.), because they cherry-pick what they’ll do like “public” & what they’ll do like “gov’t” – not so good. (P.S. Comment about public contract NOT doing work more cost-effectively than gov’t is correct. I know first-hand; was doing on-contract what had once been a gov’t position, & running the numbers, couldn’t see how it was saving. It was a transfer of public $$s to private industry. Which isn’t called what it really is: a hand-out.)

    Or, being hired by feds, but only as a 1-yr term with maybe being renewed each yr up to 4yrs at most. And even tho it’s illegal, job-description changed minutely so that it’s hired as another term instead of permanent (i.e., “termanent”). Or, your work is funded by “soft-money”, 1-2yr grants, say from the state to city/county, or from the fed to the state. The need to have the work done doesn’t go away, just the people doing it, so gov’t can be “lean & flexible” in its workforce, “like private industry” – as if the missions & mandates were one & the same. (Profits > Services/Public-Good). What a great way to assure there’s only entry-level & high-level positions, & no opportunity to cultivate at mid-level those quality workers to replace retirees.

    I’ve never had a “secure” gov’t job, period. And, I can tell you the health benefits were comparable at the private companies. So, I’ve never seen these so-called “benefits” of better medical/dental, vacation, & holidays, in trade-off to “lower, but secure & steady pay”. In fact, my prior yrs of experience, because they’ve not been with that specific gov’t or company, have never been factored, & there’s always an expectation of starting at ground-floor with each. Seems like a good strategy for keeping overhead down – hit the reset button. Much like forcing a wage-freeze (back-track), that indeed, as was made in another comment, will never fast-forwarded in “good times” to make-up for lost ground in “poor times”.

    Bottom Line: Having been in both worlds, my experience working in gov’t =

    1) no more security than in private

    2) less pay

    3) no better benefits

    4) less opportunity for advancement

    So, why work in gov’t? Same as other comments: Service, Commitment/Dedication, Helping Your Neighbors/World. Things I never saw in for-profit private industry. Their mission was completely different.

  • Bev Triden

    Iam tryen to figure out why the people on social security isn’t going to get a cost of living raise for the next 2 yrs. We have all we can do to keep are noises above water so we don’t sink. you know are rent goes up and so does every thing else. I can barely pay my rent pluse get food for my self. right now i live in an low income please because i can’t afford a nice place to live that has two bed rooms pluse a patio off my living so i can set out side and in joy the nice weather when it is nice. I don’t have a patio right now i keep tellin my kids i wan’t one i told my kids i did and iam going to get it some day.Thats all i have left in life is to get fresh air in the summer time. ANd now i see we aren’t getten any raise for 2 yrs. We work or self to death just to get social security and what a slap in the face for all of us.