Editorial: A terrible deal for DCF workers

Why should state employees accept a raise that undermines their protections?

Some Kansas Department of Children and Families employees opted to abandon their classified status – which bars state agencies from firing or punishing people without cause – in exchange for raises. (2017 file photograph/The Capital-Journal)

The budget lawmakers passed in June included long-overdue pay raises for state employees, many of whom hadn’t seen their salaries increase in years. As inflation and cost of living have risen, this was a necessary measure – it helps state employees afford basic necessities and improves morale. However, while lawmakers deserve credit for recognizing these facts, the raises were distributed in a way that generated resentment and unfairly neglected a few of our longest-serving state employees.

 

Under the budget passed this year, any state employee who has more than five years of experience – and who hasn’t received a raise during this time – was given a 5 percent bump. Meanwhile, any worker who has been employed for less than five years received a 2.5 percent increase – regardless of whether he or she had already received a raise. This means long-serving employees who were given small raises in the past were ineligible this time around, but newer employees who may have enjoyed the same raises still got the 2.5 percent.

Sara Vancil works in the financial aid and scholarships office at KU, and she’s frustrated with this arrangement: “Why are we being held out from getting this increase? What was the Legislature’s intent? It’s kind of a slap in the face to longer-serving workers.” The executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, Robert Choromanski, explained that “I have newer officers making more than veteran officers” because the longer-serving officers were given smaller raises in the past, making them ineligible.

Moreover, some of these employees opted to abandon their classified status – which bars state agencies from firing or punishing people without cause – in exchange for their raises. Choromanski points out that these employees can now “become arbitrarily terminated for no reason,” and they still didn’t get any more money this summer. The Brownback administration has made the raise-for-declassification offer to state employees before, and the Kansas Department of Children and Families is employing the same tactic now. The agency recently asked 118 employees if they would be willing to drop their classified status in exchange for a 2.5 percent raise. Although 49 of them have accepted, 69 have declined.

Those who said “no” had good reasons to do so – as Choromanski notes, “By retaining your classified status, you can appeal your termination or your demotion or your suspension without pay.” DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore says “this effort is strictly about using the tools we have to ensure equitable distribution of raises for our hard-working staff members,” but it’s a terrible way to thank employees for a job well done. Would any worker really feel valued if his or her boss said, “I’ll give you this raise, but only if I can fire you more easily”? Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, is right to be suspicious that this offer is just an attempt to undermine employee protections and potentially cull the state workforce in the future.

The high turnover rate and low employee morale at DCF make the agency’s “offer” even more troubling – why would “hard-working staff members” be eager to work at a place where they can be disciplined or terminated for no reason? While lawmakers should be commended for passing the first across-the-board pay increase for state workers in almost a decade, there’s no excuse for the way this administration is treating some of its employees.

Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.

 

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