JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – For several years now as Missouri has made its way out of the Great Recession, politicians here have talked a lot about raising pay for state workers, some of the lowest paid public employees in the nation.
From 2010 to 2012, Missouri workers saw no raise, and since, have seen only modest bumps in pay (one year they got a $500 bonus, and another, they received a 1 percent boost, but only for six months of the year). These days, according to numbers compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Missouri state workers make an average of $39,993 a year – $1,000 less than the second lowest state for employee pay, and more than $2,000 less than their neighbors in bordering states.
As legislators begin the final drive to pass a budget, the Missouri chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees on Thursday launched its push to raise pay for state workers to match the state’s ranking nationally on the cost of living index by 2020.
“If in five years we can solve this, it will do a substantial bit of good,” said Jeff Mazur, executive director of AFSCME Council 72. “This isn’t an issue that can be fixed in a single budget year.”
Mazur said that while it appears unlikely that workers will get a raise in this budget year, he hopes that in future years, legislators will make state worker pay a priority. “As those revenues come back, we need to have leaders who will say, ‘let’s pay people what they’re worth,’” he said.
Mazur was joined by Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, along with state Reps. Travis Fitzwater and Jay Barnes, both Republicans who represent parts of mid-Missouri, home to thousands of state employees. Barnes said the issue is not a “Republican or Democratic issue,” but rather a matter of ,“We are in the very bottom.”
Wendy Battaglia, a nurse at a veterans home in Cameron, Mo., said she has worked for the state since 2007. Since she started with the state making $10.75 an hour, her pay has increased $1.10 in the subsequent eight years.
“We need it,” she said. “Being 50 out of 50 is not okay. Missouri is not a last place state.”
Earlier this year, lawmakers rejected an independent commission’s suggestion that they raise the pay for themselves and the statewide officials citing concerns about the low pay for many state workers.