Brewer wants pay raises, but only for ‘uncovered’ employees

Jeremy Duda//January 27, 2013

Brewer wants pay raises, but only for ‘uncovered’ employees

Jeremy Duda//January 27, 2013

The real health care debate: Medicaid expansion
Gov. Jan Brewer (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Michael Schennum)

If Gov. Jan Brewer gets her way, state employees can look forward to a pay raise — but only if they gave up their civil service protections under her personnel reform plan.

Brewer’s executive budget proposal includes $25.1 million for pay increases for state employees, who went without pay hikes during the lean years of Arizona’s prolonged budget crisis.

The pay raises would only be available to state workers who are “uncovered,” meaning they are at-will employees who can essentially be fired at any time, for any legal reason. Brewer’s personnel reform plan of 2012 made most new hires at-will, but gave current state employees the option of keeping their “covered” protection.

Administration officials said the plan is part of Brewer’s strategy to transition to a mostly at-will work force.

“The covered system is cumbersome,” John Arnold, Brewer’s budget director, said during a Jan. 18 briefing. “So our goal is move all of our workers, the good ones and the not so good ones, into non-covered status.”

The biggest chunk of money would make permanent the 5 percent pay raises given last year to covered employees who voluntarily switched to uncovered status. The Governor’s Office included

$18.7 million in its budget plan for those pay raises.

The remaining $6.7 million would go toward merit-based pay raises. Under a proposed evaluation system, the top 30 percent of uncovered state employees would get a 4 percent pay raise, the top 55 percent would get a 2 percent pay raise, and the bottom 15 percent would get no increase in pay.

Out of a total of about 34,000 state employees, 19,552 are currently uncovered, which includes employees who were already uncovered when the personnel reform plan went into effect. Not counting several classes of correctional employees, who were exempted from the plan, 6,755 state employees remain covered under the merit protection system, according to the Governor’s Office.

“That covered status has a value, clearly, and some people want to retain it,” Arnold said.

In September, when Brewer’s personnel plan went into effect, the governor announced that 5,276 of the 13,761 eligible employees switched to at-will status.

While covered employees won’t get any raises this year under the governor’s proposed budget, Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t ever see another pay hike again.

“I wouldn’t make that assumption,” Benson said.

Brewer said her plan would make state government more efficient, put it more in line with private sector hiring practices, and make it easier to both fire bad employees and reward good ones. Critics, however, say it could return Arizona to the days when state employment was often based on political patronage and could open the door to corruption.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said he’s worried that Brewer has created a “two-class system” for state employees.

“I’m looking at the numbers and looking exactly at what the impact is, what the uncovered employees are getting versus what the covered employees are getting, just in terms of everything right now. But … it’s concerning to me that we’re going to give a pay raise only to uncovered employees and not employees who opted to stay in the system,” Campbell said. “The last thing we should be doing is rewarding certain employees for doing a job and then penalizing employees who are doing the exact same job.”

Roman Ulman, a representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a public sector union, said Brewer’s plan is unfair to employees who keep their merit protection.

“If they could say, OK, the uncovered employees are working harder, they’re producing more, then fine,” Ulman said. “But all she’s doing for is political patronage. Uncovered employees can be fired for no reason whatsoever, absolutely none.”