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Senate Democratic staff gets large raises

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The Senate handed every Democratic policy staffer a raise of at least $10,000 at the end of August, a month after a federal jury awarded $1 million to a former Democratic policy adviser who argued she was underpaid. 

Every Senate employee received a raise of at least 3 percent in August, but many partisan policy staff, nonpartisan research employees and assistants received larger bumps in pay. It was all part of a new salary schedule Senate President Karen Fann and Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo worked on this summer to bring salaries in line with those paid by other government agencies, including the House. 

In an email to senators last week, Fann said she and Baldo “worked very hard on assessing (employees’) time of employment, responsibilities, skills, supervisory duties and comparison with counterparts in the House.”

Among other changes, the new salary schedules bring Baldo — who has 10 years in the role to House Chief of Staff Michael Hunter’s three and was previously making nearly $20,000 less than Hunter — to a salary of $164,800, about $4,500 less than Hunter.

Baldo previously told the Arizona Capitol Times work on new salary schedules was unconnected to former Democratic policy adviser Talonya Adams’ ongoing lawsuit, which alleged the Senate paid her less than it should because she’s a black woman and then fired her for complaining about unequal treatment. 

The Senate argued that Adams was paid less because she worked for the minority party, not because of her race or gender. With the new raises in place, most Democratic staffers still aren’t making what their Republican counterparts are, but the differences are smaller.

Democratic senior policy adviser Sean Laux had the single largest raise, a nearly $29,000 jump. He now makes about $10,000 less than the two Republican staffers with the same title — one of them, senior policy adviser Brooke White, used to outearn Laux by $34,000.

The Democratic caucus’s three other policy advisers, Selianna Robles, Vicente Reyna and Roxanna Pitones, previously made between $50,000 and $60,850. That range is now between $61,800 and $82,400, comparable to the $65,000 to $82,400 the House pays policy advisers in both parties and the $82,400 the Senate majority pays its sole non-senior policy adviser.

Democratic Chief of Staff Jeff Winkler, staff attorney Patricia Osmon and spokesman Aaron Latham each received about $10,000 in raises, putting them in line with their counterparts in the House Democratic caucus. But while top House Democratic staffers collected between $10,000 and $20,000 in bonuses over the past year, Senate spokesman Mike Philipsen said the Senate did not provide any bonuses or stipends.

Senate Democrats have long been advocating for higher wages for minority caucus employees, and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, said caucus policy staff received even more than they asked for in a March request.

“As I understand it, the actual raises were above what we were requesting,” Bradley said. “On the policy side, from a salary point of view, things are pretty good as far as I know.”

Bradley said he welcomed Fann’s establishment of a salary schedule and ongoing work to create set standards to evaluate Senate employees based on performance. He said he hasn’t personally been involved in discussions about employee standards but knows that Democratic staff members have, and said having standards and policies in place could prevent the issues that led to Adams’ lawsuit.

“This is making some headway,” Bradley said.

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