Brownback handing out additional pay raises, but only to unclassified staff

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

? Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration announced Thursday that it is providing 2.5 percent pay raises to state employees who were left out of the pay plan Kansas lawmakers approved this year, but only to those outside the state’s civil service system.

The announcement was made in a news release Thursday from the Kansas Department of Administration, although the release was not sent to many news outlets until Friday. It said the raises would be funded out of “existing agency funds.”

“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 the release. “The administration is currently looking at the agency budgets for Fiscal Year 2019 (which begins July 1, 2018) to determine how inequities and salary compression can be further addressed. We look forward to working with the 2018 Legislature to further address this situation.”

In government employment, classified employees are paid wages based on a pay matrix authorized by the Legislature that takes into account the classification of the job and the employee’s years of service. Employees are supposed to receive regular “step” increases for each year of service, plus longevity bonuses for those who reach the top end of the pay scale.

Due to budgetary constraints, however, those step increases and longevity bonuses have not been funded for the last several years.

Classified employees also have civil service protection, meaning they are entitled to a due process hearing before they can be summarily fired or demoted.

Unclassified employees, by contrast, are considered “at-will” employees. They generally earn more than classified workers, and their salaries are determined by their bosses. But they have no civil service protection and can be fired at any time.

In the release, the agency said the state does not have legal authority to grant raises to classified employees without legislative approval.

However, at least one state agency, the Department of Health and Environment, said it would give the 2.5 percent raise to classified workers if they agree to shift to an unclassified position.

“If you are in a classified position and voluntarily agree to move to unclassified, we can provide a 2.5 percent increase plus longevity,” KDHE Secretary Susan Mosier said in a staff email obtained by the Journal-World.

At the Department of Corrections, however, Secretary Joe Norwood said that because of a lack of resources, the raises would come in the form of a one-time, lump sum bonus payment to unclassified employees.

“Unfortunately, KDOC was not able to identify funding for a 2.5% wage increase for these unclassified employees,” Norwood said in an email to his staff. “However, we have found funding for a ‘one-time’ 2.5% bonus. The effective date will be announced at a later date.”

In the budget bill that lawmakers approved this year, employees who have worked for the state less than five years were given a 2.5 percent raise. Employees who have worked for the state longer than five years could qualify for a 5 percent raise, but only if they had not received any pay increases during that five-year period.

As a result of that language, very few veteran employees qualified for a raise this year.

Robert Choromanski, head of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, accused the administration of using the pay raises to weaken the civil service system.

“It’s causing division and dissension between classified and unclassified employees,” Choromanski said in a phone interview. “It’s practically creating a two-tiered state of employees. Basically the administration is labeling classified employees as losers and labeling unclassified employees as the winners.”

Choromanski said there was nothing the union could do legally to block the administration’s action. But he said he plans to seek legislation next year to restore civil service protection for all state employees.

“There was a bill that we proposed this past session, but it really didn’t go anywhere because of the budgetary and fiscal crisis that the Legislature was focused on,” he said. “But we will be working that bill again because it’s still alive. (It would) basically reinstate the civil service system and try to convert back all of those unclassified employees back into classified employees, because it’s the only way to be fair to make sure that all state employees are treated equitably and fairly.”