Politics & Government

SC state workers want to know when Legislature will fix their low pay

SC pay compensation study revealed, two years after completion

Is the South Carolina state compensation plan antiquated and dysfunctional? Consultant gives results
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Is the South Carolina state compensation plan antiquated and dysfunctional? Consultant gives results

S.C. state employees expressed disappointment Wednesday the Legislature has not yet acted on a 2016 pay study, saying they are paid significantly less than their peers at local governments, the private sector and other Southeastern states.

“It’s shameful,” said Angelee Williams, president of the S.C. State Employees Association and human resources manager for the S.C. Department of Corrections. “The fact we’ve sat on this for two years is even more disheartening for us.”

State senators were told Wednesday that across-the-board pay raises will not solve South Carolina’s woes in recruiting and retaining state workers but only more create inequities.

Instead, the Legislature should focus on reorganizing the state’s 20-year-old compensation and classification plan – which determines what an employee makes – and shift the responsibility of determining pay to the state’s human resources division and away from state agencies.

“There’s a limit to how many times you can remodel a house without having to say we need to build a new house,” Neville Kenning, president of Kenning Consultants, told a state Senate panel Wednesday. “Yes, we do need to be funding salary increases, but we also need to be rebuilding the house.”

In 2015, the General Assembly paid nearly $300,000 to Kenning and his firm to study the pay of state workers. That study found state workers’ pay lags:

15 percent behind compared to other states

16 percent behind compared to public-sector jobs in S.C. counties and cities

18 percent behind compared to the private sector

But the study’s recommendations – including crafting a framework that the state can base employee pay off of – have yet to be enacted and a study committee to address pay inequities never met, Kenning said.

“Obviously, we have some work to do,” said state Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, who chairs the Senate Finance subcommittee on health and human services.

The budget proposal the S.C. House will vote on next week does not include pay raises for all state employees. However, it does include a 2 percent pay hike for all S.C. school teachers – costing an added $60 million – and a $750 increase for Corrections Department officers.

That hurts longtime state workers like James Jones, a workforce consultant in Greenwood and Abbeville counties for the S.C. Department of Social Services, who said he has received very few pay raises in his 20 years working for the state.

“It’s been tough. It’s been challenging,” said the father of two. “Most state employees have other jobs, including myself.”

After helping low-income South Carolinians, Jones works in private security and as a state high school basketball official.

Retired state worker Ginny Robinson said she left her Corrections Department job in 2012 – after 41 years as a state worker – because, in part, she had not received a pay raise in several years.

“It was discouraging (to leave). I probably would have stayed if I had gotten more pay raises,” she said. “But I did not see that in the near future, and it was just time to go.”

Added Robinson, “It’s vitally important that people realize what state employees do for the population of the state of South Carolina.”

Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657, @MaayanSchechter