Topeka About 100 Kansas University classified employees used vacation time Tuesday to join other state workers at a Statehouse rally to demand better salary and retirement benefits from the Legislature.
Brad Eden, KU library assistant, led demonstrators marching in a circle. Together, they chanted: "You vote now, we vote later, get the message, Legislature" and "Cost of living 6 percent, 1.5 won't pay the rent."
At KU, classified employees include groundskeepers, housing personnel, librarians, secretaries and most non-faculty positions. KU has a Classified Senate to represent about 1,800 university employees.
Rose Foster, a sign-toting secretary from the School of Law's admissions office and Classified Senate member, said she was concerned that legislators have allowed wages to lag behind the rising cost of living.
"THE STATE is not concerned about the 1,800 classified employees at KU. We're not the priority. I love my job, but I sure don't love my wages," said Foster, holding a sign that asked, "Have you seen our raise?"
Eden said the Kansas Council of Classified Employees' demands include:
The final phase of job reclassification by 1992 to bring more state salaries in line with the private sector.
A 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment by June (Gov. Joan Finney proposed a 1.5 percent COLA) and a 2.5 percent "step," or merit, increase.
Longevity bonus of $40 per year of service for workers with 10 or more years of service. Some lawmakers want to eliminate bonuses.
Expand Kansas Public Employees Retirement System benefits and improve annual leave, health care and child care benefits.
EDEN SAID he was frustrated that the Legislature tends to wait until the last part of each session to consider adjustments to salaries and benefits of classified employees, who get "whatever is left."
"A lot of people are tired of year after year being left to the end of the session when there's no money. We're just given leftovers," said Eden, nearly shouting to be heard over the protesters.
Rep. John Solbach, D-Lawrence, didn't attend the rally, but protesters met with him. Although salary improvements in recent years might suggest otherwise, lawmakers care "very much" about state employees, he said.
"Many of us are sensitive to the fact that we've got to be fair and consistent with classified employees and also sensitive to the fact there were a few years there where it appeared they were the last to be funded," he said.
SOLBACH SAID it was "grossly unfair" that the final phase of reclassification started by Gov. John Carlin hasn't been implemented. If it isn't finished soon, the state risks losing its best employees, he said.
"The practical side of this is that if you don't provide a competitive wage, you begin to weed out your very best and you begin to screen out your best applicants. That's not good for the state," Solbach said.
Carol Dressler, president of KU Classified Senate and a secretary in the purchasing office, said she was most troubled by the "unacceptable" 1.5 percent COLA and the possible loss of the step increase and longevity pay.
"We consider that (step) kind of a condition of employment," she said. "When you're hired, you count on getting that. And a lot of people don't realize that if you take away longevity, you're cutting salaries."