Judge: Mo. corrections workers entitled to back pay

Thursday, April 17, 2008 | 5:10 p.m. CDT; updated 4:39 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri probation and parole workers are entitled to more than $4 million in back pay because lawmakers illegally excluded them from a pay raise granted to other state employees, a state judge ruled.

But the Republican-led Senate today refused to insert the back pay into the budget.

Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan stopped short of ordering the Legislature to spend money for the pay raise, saying that would infringe on the legislative branch's exclusive power to appropriate money.

Callahan's decision, dated April 9, is a follow up to his December 2005 ruling that legislators unlawfully denied probation and parole workers a $1,200 raise granted to other state workers in 2004. An appeals court upheld that decision last year. But neither ruling addressed how the roughly 1,100 probation and parole workers should be compensated.

Callahan's latest ruling says the probation and parole workers are entitled to more than $4.1 million in back pay covering 2004 to 2007, and the state also should pay more than $300,000 in taxes on that back pay.

But Callahan said he could not issue an injunction compelling the state to place probation and parole workers in a higher pay scale, because "a court may not order what it cannot enforce."

The Service Employees International Union Local 2000 had argued in its lawsuit that its members were retaliated against in the state budget because they had separately negotiated an average $1,215 annual pay raise several months earlier to compensate for increased duties and responsibilities.

The union claimed its members still were entitled to the similarly sized raise granted to other employees, and noted that other classifications of employees had received both a separate pay raise and the standard $1,200 raise in 2004.

Republican lawmakers argued in 2004 that it would have been unfair to other workers to give probation and parole workers anything more than the average $1,215 raise they already had negotiated.

But citing the court ruling, Democratic Sen. Chris Koster, of Harrisonville, said today that lawmakers had unfairly discriminated against probation and parole workers by denying them the extra money.

Koster sought to add nearly $4.5 million to the 2009 budget, which takes effect July 1, to cover the back pay. But his amendment was defeated on a largely party-line 20-13 vote, with only one Republican voting for it and only one Democratic siding against it.

The vote set up an interesting political dynamic. Koster, who is running for attorney general, was opposed in his attempt by Republican Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, of Kirkwood, who also is running for attorney general.

Gibbons said lawmakers should wait to appropriate money for the back pay, because the judge's ruling still could be appealed.

Koster countered that was disrespectful to the probation and parole workers.

"We care so little about them that now we intend to drag them out for another year, so we can dicker over dollars," Koster said.

Union political director John Cross said today that the pay raise is long overdue and that the union is still hopeful of persuading state officials to include it in the budget.

Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Hauswirth said the agency has not taken a position yet on whether or when its probation and parole workers should receive back pay.

The attorney general's office did not immediately respond to questions about whether it would appeal Callahan's latest ruling.

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