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Archive for Monday, October 28, 2013

State agriculture agency willing to give pay raise to workers who agree to move with agency and shed classified status

October 28, 2013

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— As part of the Kansas Department of Agriculture's move to Manhattan, the agency is offering its employees who are relocating a 2 percent pay increase plus a longevity bonus if applicable.

For classified employees, however, there is a catch. They must agree to accept an unclassified position.

That means the employee would no longer have the protections of the Civil Service statutes and could be fired at will.

Agriculture Department spokeswoman Mary Soukup said the payraise is "an effort to mitigate the impact of the Department's upcoming move to Manhattan on employees."

To receive the salary increase, the employee has to be unclassified or agree to accept an unclassified appointment if currently classified.

Earlier this year, the department announced that it was moving from Topeka to Manhattan, a distance of about 56 miles. Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman said putting the department next to Kansas State University and the future National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility will enhance the agency.

Under the proposal, KDA will leave its current offices in the Mills Building in downtown Topeka no later than June 30, 2014, and move into a soon-to-be-constructed, three-story, 50,000-square-foot office building in the Kansas State University Foundation Research Park.

The Agriculture Department has about 160 employees. Some will stay in Topeka, including administrative staff and those who work at a lab and field office at Forbes Field.

It is unknown how many employees have decided to leave the agency because of the move.

The proposed pay increase is meant as an incentive, Soukup said.

"Since such an increase is not possible under the State's classified pay matrix, this option is only available to employees in the unclassified service or, where allowable, any classified employee who is willing to move to the unclassified service," Soukup said.

Some Topeka legislators have voiced concerns that the move will hurt downtown Topeka and be a hardship on agency employees.

The Kansas Organization of State Employees didn't want to comment yet on the Agriculture Department's pay proposal, saying that it was still gathering information.

During the last legislative session, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee approved a measure that would have undone protections of the classified employment system.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said he heard anecdotal information that agency heads wanted to have more flexibility to reward and manage employees. But representatives of state workers said the bill would have meant jobs would be awarded based on politics instead of merit.

The measure wasn't considered by the full House, but supporters indicated they expected to work on the issue more in the 2014 legislative session, which starts in January.

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