Some state employees get raises, others not

Advocate staff file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- View of the Louisiana State Capitol Building, along with other government buildings right of the Capitol building. Nearly half of Louisiana's 42,000 state civil service employees received a 4 percent payraise.  The other half of classified workers did not. Show caption
Advocate staff file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- View of the Louisiana State Capitol Building, along with other government buildings right of the Capitol building. Nearly half of Louisiana's 42,000 state civil service employees received a 4 percent payraise. The other half of classified workers did not.

It’s a state government version of the “haves” and “have nots.”

Nearly half of Louisiana’s some 41,800 classified state employees received a 4 percent increase in their paychecks Oct. 1, including those working in social service, public safety, transportation, environmental, and wildlife agencies, as well as the government’s management arm. But the remaining thousands of other rank-and-file state government workers did not get pay raises.

It has nothing to do with their work or their annual job performance evaluations. It has everything to do with money.

“We believe that all state employees, when they meet (performance) standards, merit those increases,” said Shannon Templet, director of the Civil Service. “We would like those employees to get it. But, unfortunately, with the budget environment, that is not happening.”

The Jindal administration’s $25 billion-plus budget did not include extra funds to provide for state worker pay raises. Agencies had to come up with the dollars within the appropriation they received if they wanted to increase pay.

What has resulted is a patchwork of pay policies based on the finances of a department, agency or division of state government and state employees being treated differently based on where they work.

Some state employees work for agencies that raised base salaries the full 4 percent allowed by Civil Service. Others will receive something less, 2.5 percent or 3 percent. A handful of agencies could only afford a one-time bonus.

But a majority of classified employees in the executive branch got nothing — many for the fourth year in a row. Employees of state agencies from health care to education, from corrections to economic development, and natural resources to juvenile justice, didn’t get pay raises. Most state government employees are “classified,” meaning they’re protected by state Department of Civil Service. “Unclassified” state workers have no job protection.

Some agencies are larger and have more employees, which means increased annual pay translates into much higher costs year after year. Other agencies are largely federally funded or rely on self-generated funds, rather than on solely dollars from the state general fund.

“We have all been equally challenged to create the efficiencies. I don’t know that I agree that some have an easier time than others,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said. “We want to normalize government operations and recognize performance, but we all have to live within our means.”

Nichols said the state Department of Health and Hospitals and the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, along with the Office of Juvenile Justice “continue to analyze” their fiscal situation in hopes that they can identify the dollars to provide some kind of pay hike.

About 12,000 classified employees who work for the three agencies — among them nurses aides, prison guards and food inspectors — are watching the situation closely.

Most of Louisiana’s classified employees should have received a 4 percent pay increase Oct. 1, based on exceptional or successful job ratings. But many government agencies got an exception because granting such raises would require layoffs in order to meet the budgeted appropriation.

“The flexibility has always been there but after 2008 with the fiscal downturn of the economy we had to utilize the layoff avoidance (exception) more and more,” Templet said.

Some state employees have moved from one agency to another because of better prospects for annual pay raises, Templet said. “The turnover has been higher between agencies,” she said.

For two years, the state Civil Service Commission — at the Jindal administration’s request — stopped normal pay raises because of the state’s financial condition. Without the ban, state agencies are beginning to reinstitute the raises by finding “efficiencies” that save dollars which are then used to fund the raises, Templet said. This year, “it’s beginning to ease up,” she said.

Templet said state employees retain eligibility to receive the pay raise for three years. If an agency identifies adequate funding, they can retroactively or prospectively bump the pay, she said.

Departments which have not come up with the dollars for pay raises include: the state Department of Health and Hospitals with 6,815 classified employees, the state corrections agency with 4,885 employees, the state Department of Education and a related entity, 721; Juvenile Justice, 853; the Department of Natural Resources, 354; the Department of Culture Recreation and Tourism, 636; and the Department of Economic Development, 65.

Human Services districts and many four and two-year colleges around the state also certified they didn’t have the money to provide the otherwise warranted pay boosts for their rank-and-file employees. In higher education, the employees are some of the 9,078 in non-academic positions on college campuses.

“We have not set a firm time line for determining if the Department can provide performance adjustments to employees during this fiscal year,” DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert said.

Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc has indicated a February pay raise is planned for prison guards, probation and parole officers and others in his agency.

Getting the raises are employees of the executive department that includes the Jindal administration’s management arm and the governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, with 1,625 employees; the state Department of Child and Family Services, 3,522; the state Department of Transportation and Development, 4,274; the Louisiana Workforce Commission, 1,043; the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, 812; state Department of Environmental Quality, 646; and the Public Safety Services that includes State Police, the Office of Motor Vehicles and the state fire marshal’s office, 2,551; and Civil Service agencies, 200.

In the case of Public Safety, classified Civil Service employees will get the 4 percent.

The amount of individual increases will vary from zero to 3 percent for troopers based on guidelines established by the State Police Commission. Troopers do not fall under state Civil Service.