Colorado government employees are paid less than the private sector, state data shows. And those relative low salaries and thousands of unfilled positions leave the state incapable of meeting all demands, he alleges.
The state’s ability to compete for new employees and fill vacant slots affects the function of its basic services – from prisons to housing-support helplines, mental health facilities to public universities.
According to a report released on Wednesday by the Department of Personnel and Administration, the average base salary for an employee of the state is now 6.5% lower than the current market. This means that someone qualified for a government job of $70,000 can get around $5,000 more in the private sector.
But the state union reports that more than a fifth of government workers here earn less than $45,000, and more than 10% of jobs are consistently unfilled, rising to 20% in 2018.
“The reason we have problems attracting and keeping people is low pay,” said Skip Miller, who works in IT for the state and president of the Colorado WINS, the state employees’ union. “A lot of these jobs are tough – (transportation), corrections departments, health workers, hospitals. These are jobs that require dedicated people.
“You have to pay them and if not they will go somewhere else. And that’s what’s happening.”
State officials say the playing field is level over wage inequality, as government employees receive valuable benefits. This includes pension contributions from the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), which is 18% of the average salary – slightly better than in the private sector.
Even with benefits included, the state reports an average difference of about 3% in total compensation. This is an improvement over last year, when the state reported a difference of over 16%.
Both the state report and the union note that Colorado’s ability to close the gap has been helped by a 3% increase approved by the legislature this year. The state now contracts with a separate consultant to match its compensation figures, and Kara Veitch, the state’s director of personnel and administration, is more positive in her assessment of the numbers this year.
“The value of the state’s total compensation package is competitive with the market,” she wrote in a letter to the government. Jared Polis and State Sen. Dominic Moreno, who chairs the Legislative Joint Budget Committee. But he said the state needs to research and monitor different job classes that are not competitive.
In a statement, Veitch told The Denver Post that Colorado is “consistently working to become the employer of choice.”
“We do everything we can to offer competitive pay and benefits, and we listen to employees through channels such as listening sessions and regular engagement surveys. We work to implement many of the ideas shared by employees. including increased training opportunities, flexible work arrangements and a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion.
“Like all other organizations in Colorado, the state has to deal with the challenges of a competitive labor market and manage its budget,” she said.
“Barely By Scraping”
The union doesn’t buy that the compensation gap is 3%, saying there has been an increase in private sector salaries for government employees. Miller called this week’s state report “curious” and out of sync with the workers’ lived experiences.
State employees of various departments say that they are still facing difficulty in submitting bills. At a rally in Denver last Friday, workers spoke of sleeping in cars, hanging out with family and waiting in lines to eat.
He said these personal conflicts led to workplace problems.
“Often we are operating at a significant staffing level,” said juvenile corrections officer Tanesha McQueen, “it is common for dozens of children to have a mental health professional on staff.
Parker Cagle-Smith, who works at the Colorado State University bookstore, said employees are “barely scraping by.”
“If you take it as a small sample at the bookstore, it doesn’t look so bad,” Cagle-Smith said, “but you add it thousands of times across the state … and there’s a shortage. There will be no better services. Your buses will not come on time. At the university you will deal with delays, shortages.”
This week, two liberal organizations, In Public Trust and the Colorado Fiscal Institute, released a report arguing that the state’s under-investment in its workforce – and thus in its services – poses “significant challenges” from caring for older people. Failed to cope”. and the disabled to be prepared for the pandemic.
In that report, Stephanie Mane, an administrative assistant in the Department of Housing within the Department of Local Affairs, said she felt unable to help those who sought housing assistance.
“The calls were necessary. People wanted answers but I didn’t have any information that could help them.” “I answered calls from very desperate people – people who were evicted, had no jobs, were in every kind of horrible situation you can imagine. I talked to people who were bullied Was or was kept out of the house, but they had no shelter. I didn’t have the resources to answer them or transfer them to the right person.”
However, state workers have acquired the ability to bargain with the state over wages and benefits with the 2020 law. The first negotiated contract is expected to be finalized soon.
The union plans another increase in the 2022 legislative session, Miller said, particularly with the federal government’s infusion of relief funds.
Last year’s growth was appreciated, but far from sufficient, he argued.
“If you’re crawling through the desert and you get a cup of water, you’re not going to turn it down,” Miller said. “But it’s not a gallon.”