State employees rallied Wednesday for better wages as part of their negotiation for their next two-year contract, citing a state study that identified 99 percent of employees as making less than people doing the same jobs elsewhere.
The 2016 state salary survey, released this spring, looked at the midpoints of salary ranges of state employees. They compared those to the midpoints of salary ranges for those doing the same jobs in the private sector and for other public employers, like cities and counties.
The survey found that two-thirds of state employees’ salary range midpoints were more than 25 percent below the market-level pay.
Then, another 23 percent of state employees’ salary range midpoints were between 12.5 percent and 25 percent below the market.
Another 10 percent of state employees were paid between 2.5 percent and 10 percent below the market.
Only 1 percent of state employees were paid at or above the market. An example of this is pharmacy technicians, who are paid 14 percent above the market average.
“I make less than $20 an hour, and I supervise 33 employees,” said Amber Robinson, a psychiatric childcare counselor.
Robinson said she’s 34 years old and still has a roommate. She has been working for the state’s only psychiatric hospital for children for almost 10 years, and she would like to be paid about $5 more an hour.
“My heart, my passion is with those kids. I’ve been working there a long time,” she said.
It’s not just about pay, however. Robinson wants to ensure proper safety measures, training and benefits are in place for a job that can be dangerous.
“Every nine days they are injured where they have to actually seek medical attention, more than just first aid,” she said.
The state salary survey concluded that state employees receive relatively good benefits compared to their counterparts who work for other employers.
But because other public sector employers, like cities and counties, sometimes employ people for the same types of jobs at higher pay, some state employees said their colleagues have left.
Alisha Gregory-Davis, a program coordinator for the University of Washington, said she has remained at the same position for almost 20 years, though she has been tempted by higher salaries elsewhere.
“There are jobs for the county and the city that I’ve considered because they pay $10,000, $15,000 more a year,” she said.
When asked why she hasn’t left, she said, “I’ve been there for 19 years, and I’m committed to public service…It’s part of who I am, and it’s what I know. So I feel like, I love my job.”
A two-year contract for state employees must be finalized by Oct. 1. That contract will then be sent to the Legislature next year for an up or down vote.
Critics have said this process is not transparent, since no details of the negotiations are open to the public.
While the exact requested wage increases are still being kept private, the union leaders have said they are attempting to do better than the previous contract. The 2015-16 contract gave them a raise of 4.8 percent spread out over two years.
Prior to that increase, state employees had not received a raise since before the recession.