NewsTracker Tax and Budget

AG Upholds Policy Limiting State Worker Raises

The head of the state workers’ union said Thursday he’s not likely to pursue any further challenge to a Haslam administration policy excluding problem employees from across-the-board pay raises.

The attorney general upheld the policy in an opinion released Friday. Bob O’Connell, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, which represents roughly a third of the state’s 46,000 workers, said the opinion concludes the matter.

“In my opinion, that probably means we’re not going to do anything else. There’s nothing further we can do,” O’Connell said, after listing the various channels exhausted by the group, which included meetings with the governor.

Last summer Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration determined that workers who within the past year had been written up at least twice, demoted or suspended would not be eligible for a 1.6 percent raise. The policy affected about 2 percent of the state workforce.

The AG’s office in its opinion said the administration’s inclusion of disciplinary history when considering “work performance” was reasonable, and that the policy does not get crossways with the budget bill or any other state law. The opinion was requested by state Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis.

For O’Connell, that signaled the end of this round.

O’Connell did say, however, that the association may lobby legislators to include language in this year’s budget that ensures any across-the-board pay raise truly applies to all employees.

Haslam has made rewarding state employees based on performance a central plank of his 2012 legislative package, as well as easing the transition to performance-based pay for teachers by eliminating state mandates weighted more on seniority.

The governor’s office said Haslam plans to include a pay increase in this year’s budget but would not say if such a raise would again be withheld from some employees based on their disciplinary history.

At the unveiling of his agenda Tuesday, Haslam said he didn’t think “across-the-board, nominal adjustments, that are given regardless of performance” were the best way to reward employees.

As for the proposed changes to the state’s hiring and employment practices, O’Connell said he’s read the bill – HB 2384 – all the way through, but hasn’t had time to compare it with current civil service laws. O’Connell did express concerns over the governor’s desire to do away with a seniority policy known as “bumping and retreating,” which allows a laid-off worker with the state for several years to take the job of a newer worker with no regard for actual performance on the job.

O’Connell said the policy protects against political patronage.

“I don’t think the governor wants patronage,” he told TNReport. “But the problem is human beings administer this.”