Politics & Government

Brownback giving pay raises, bonuses to state workers left out of earlier increase

The Wichita Eagle file photo

About 3,000 state government workers who are not part of Kansas’ civil service program and have not gotten a raise this year will see their paychecks increase this month.

The raises, authorized by Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday, come after his administration said some state workers were frustrated that an earlier round of raises approved by lawmakers left them out.

The Legislature approved raises for state employees this spring based on years of service and how many years workers had gone without a raise.

Not all workers received those raises. Most in the civil service system received raises because the last statutory pay increase was nearly a decade ago. Fewer workers outside the system got increases because the Brownback administration has offered raises to those workers more recently.

At least one agency will offer classified workers the option of giving up their civil service protections in order to get the new raise approved this week. Classified employees are covered by the Civil Service Act and can be fired only with cause. Non-classified workers are at-will employees and can be fired for any reason.

The union that represents classified workers said the Brownback administration was trying to sow division among employees and weaken the classified system.

"The Brownback administration is creating two camps of state workers. They’re basically saying if you go unclassified you’re a winner, if you’re classified you’re a loser," said Robert Choromanski, director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees.

But the administration says the aim of the raises is to correct inequities created by the Legislature’s earlier increase, which ranged from 2.5 to 5 percent.

"This effort furthers the Governor’s commitment to rewarding employees for their performance and trust in their employer," Secretary of Administration Sarah Shipman said in a statement.

The 2.5 percent raise for unclassified workers authorized this week will go into effect Sept. 24. Some agencies are raising the base pay of workers, while others are providing a bonus equivalent to a 2.5 percent increase.

The raises will be paid using existing funds, the Department of Administration said.

The Eagle obtained emails from agency leaders to employees announcing the increases. The messages outline how the raises will be implemented.

Phyllis Gilmore, the secretary for the Department for Children and Families, told staff, "We are happy to right this wrong," and said the workers receiving raises now were "overlooked" by lawmakers earlier.

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services will provide a one-time bonus, according to the email from agency secretary Tim Keck. He plans to submit a budget request to make the increase ongoing, however.

The Department of Transportation will offer classified workers the chance to go unclassified and receive a 2.5 percent bump, according to an email from Transportation Secretary Richard Carlson.

Numerous agencies have offered classified workers raises over the past few years if they gave up their civil service protections.

Lawmakers approved pay raises for state workers this spring based on their length of service. For classified workers, it was the first across-the-board raise since 2008.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who sits on the Senate’s budget committee, said there was no intent by lawmakers to exclude some workers. She acknowledged that leaving out workers did create problems within the agencies, but also suggested Brownback may be trying to prod more classified workers into giving up their civil service protections.

“It can’t be overlooked that another motivation is probably the ability to offer people, again, ‘If you give up your job protections, we’ll give you a pay raise,’” Kelly said.

The Brownback administration has previously said workers were agnry with how the Legislature designed the pay raises.

"While Governor Brownback believes the state employee pay raises are well-deserved, the legislature excluded many long-serving employees from the pay increase plan and that has resulted in a lot of frustration amongst state workers," then-spokeswoman Melika Willoughby said in July.

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman