Gov. Bill Haslam shrugged off complaints by the state employees union over his administration’s decision to withhold pay raises from workers who got themselves in trouble on the job during the last year.
The state denied raises to an estimated 2 percent of executive branch state employees — or as many as 850 people — this month after high-ranking commissioners agreed that workers who had been written up at least twice, demoted or suspended should not get a 1.6 percent raise written in this year’s state budget, according to the Tennessee Department of Human Resources.
“Raises are for those employees who performed their jobs well,” Haslam told TNReport after a fundraiser for Republican Rep. Ryan Williams in Cookeville Wednesday evening. “If an employee has been disciplined or had two written reprimands, I’m not certain that qualifies them (as) the type of folks that in a very limited economy we want to give raises to.”
An administration spokesman added that “the administration believes the increase should be provided to state employees that are adequately doing their jobs.”
Gerald McCormick, a top-level House Republican, said there’s little drive within the Legislature’s GOP-led leadership to defend employees who have slipped up.
“I’m not going to take a stand to give raises to someone who, maybe, has had disciplinary write-ups,” said the Chattanooga Republican.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, declined to comment.
The Tennessee State Employees Association isn’t happy about the decision.
Punishing employees twice for getting in trouble nearly constitutes “double jeopardy,” said Bob O’Connell, executive director of the TSEA which represents 15,000 of the 46,000 state employees on the payroll.
Employees who were reprimanded in the last year already paid the consequences, whether it was time off without pay or a demotion paired with a lower salary, O’Connell said.
“It violates every principal of fundamental fairness that we all hold in common, that it’s just not fair either to punish somebody twice for the same offense and also to let them know what the penalty is after the fact,” he said. “This person is good enough to keep working here and that raise is supposed to be enough to lift them up so they can continue to put bread on the table.”
According to the public code, (Section 49, Item 2)
“lt is the legislative intent that the across-the-board salary increase shall apply to all state employees unless an employee is denied on the basis of unsatisfactory work performance, which shall be set forth in a statement from the head of the department or agency detailing the circumstances surrounding the denial, which shall be sent to the affected employee. The person shall have the opportunity to respond either orally or in writing to the head of the department or agency or their designee.”
Approximately 270 people were denied raises in the Department of Corrections when the new budget year kicked in July 1. Thirteen of those workers were ineligible for raises because of poor performance and the rest had recent disciplinary actions on their record, according to the TSEA.
“It feels like what they want to do is spend the least amount of money possible on this raise,” said O’Connell.
In light of the governor rejecting the TSEA’s request he repeal his administration’s decision to omit disciplined employees from pay increases, O’Connell says the union’s next step may be to ask that workers be eligible for a raise after they’ve gone a calendar year without incident.