TOPEKA — A committee overseeing state employee pay is recommending about $11.4 million in raises for underpaid state workers, with corrections officers at Kansas prisons among the groups benefiting most.
The Joint Committee on Employee Pay Plan Oversight on Tuesday recommended 7.5 percent raises for more than a thousand corrections officers. The funds were appropriated during the 2012 legislative session.
Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts told the committee the increases would bring officers who haven’t had a pay raise since 2009 closer to the market rate. Roberts said that out of seven states surveyed by his agency, only Oklahoma paid its corrections officers less than Kansas.
The pay raises are part of a state program to raise the pay of certain state employees closer to similar private-sector employees. This is the fourth year of a five-year program and the first since legislators suspended funding the increases last year over budget concerns.
The pay increases range from 5 percent to 12.5 percent and will go to 4,296 state employees, which is about a quarter of the state payroll. The committee’s recommendations now go to the State Finance Council for approval. The increase amounts were negotiated between the Department of Administration and state employee unions.
“I don’t have a lot to say except thank you for the money,” Mike Marvin, of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, told the committee.
Marvin said after the meeting that the union would keep working to get pay raises for other employees.
“It’s a step forward for basically 3,500 workers that KOSE represents,” Marvin said. “That means there’s probably another 5,500 that do not get a step forward.”
About 1,000 corrections officers are KOSE members. The committee’s recommendation allocates about $1.65 million to the Lansing prison, $1.04 million to El Dorado, $1.19 for Hutchinson and more than $400,000 to the five other smaller facilities and the Department of Corrections itself.
Juvenile Justice Authority employees would see increases, as well, with $455,155 split among 161 employees at the Kansas Juvenile Corrections Complex in Topeka and $205,775 for 60 employees at the Larned facility.
“This will go a long way toward helping the long-term employees of JJA that risk their lives every day,” Teamsters representative Matt Hall told the committee.
He said the pay increases would make the jobs more attractive and help retain and recruit staff, while alleviating the number of overtime hours being worked.
The Topeka juvenile complex was the subject of a critical audit released in July that found the facility had a 32 percent turnover rate among staff, the highest among Kansas correctional facilities in the past five years and a factor in a number of security problems.
“We try not to have too many of those situations where people work 16 hours (straight),” Roberts said. “But it always works better if you have sufficient staff.”
Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican and chairwoman of the committee, said other reforms were needed to improve conditions at Topeka juvenile center, but pay raises to retain trained staff is “certainly a piece of the puzzle.”