Missouri workers’ pay raise uneven

Parole officers won’t get the across-the-board $1,200 raises.
Monday, May 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:13 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — An across-the-board pay raise generally means everyone gets the same amount of money.

But in Missouri’s budget, as recently passed by lawmakers, several thousand of Missouri’s roughly 61,000 state employees would not get the across-the-board, $1,200 annual raise set to take effect July 1.

Some would get raises three times that amount. And others would receive nothing.

The fortunate are the roughly 1,100 members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, whose raises will average more than $3,500 for troopers and even more for higher-ranking officers. The law officers and lawmakers say the increase is needed to counteract the lure of better-paying jobs at city police departments.

The unfortunate are elected officials, who cut themselves out of a raise, and the state’s roughly 1,200 probation and parole officers, who, because they negotiated a roughly $1,200 raise in December, will not get another one in July.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, said it wouldn’t be fair to let probation and parole workers double their money.

“We’re trying to say that everybody needs to be treated the same,” Russell said.

Yet, the union that represents probation and parole officers says they are being treated unfairly.

“This is unprecedented action to punish people who are in the union,” said Grant Williams, president of the St. Louis-based chapter of the Service Employees International Union, a politically active unit often at odds with Republicans.

The pay dispute has its roots in summer 2001, when Democratic Gov. Bob Holden — a big financial beneficiary of SEIU — expanded union powers in state government by granting collective bargaining rights to many state employees.

After bargaining talks last year between SEIU and the Department of Corrections, the department sought changes in job descriptions and wage classifications for probation and parole officers.

But the state Personnel Advisory Board, which decides such matters, approved only the changes in job titles at its November meeting, opting against placing probation and parole workers in a higher wage classification.

The board compared the job duties and wages of Missouri’s probation and parole officers to people in similar positions elsewhere, as well as to employees performing similar duties in other parts of Missouri government.

"We didn’t think that information justified that (pay) change at that time,” board chairman Paul Boudreau said Friday.

But the board did agree to rename all employees categorized as “Probation and Parole Officer I” as “Probation and Parole Officer II.” And all officers then at level two were re-titled to a new level three.

Armed with those new titles, the union requested further salary negotiations with the department, which responded by raising probation and parole officers two steps within their existing pay ranges.

For an officer with an average salary of $31,000, the raise resulted in about a $1,200 annual increase, Williams said.

Department of Corrections Director Gary Kempker said he chose to grant the pay raise because the responsibilities of probation and parole officers had changed substantially since their classifications were last revised in the early 1990s.

“I’m always going to support a raise for my folks,” Kempker said.

What’s unfair, contends Williams, is that employees in other departments who got raises because of wage reclassifications during the past year also are to get the $1,200 pay raise in the next state budget.

For example, at its November meeting, the Personnel Advisory Board approved raises of $756 to $1,176 for inspectors in the Professional Registration Division of the Department of Economic Development. The legislature’s budget gives them an additional $1,200.

Russell notes there is a distinction: While other raises were approved by the personnel board, the raise for probation and parole officers wasn’t, yet was granted anyway.

“The only message I think anyone needs to receive out of this is, any collective bargaining (pay raise) has to be approved by the legislature,” Russell said.

That’s precisely the message received by the union.

“They (Republican lawmakers) want to send a very clear message that you’ll never get anything done through collective bargaining,” Williams alleged.

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