Employee morale a factor in state labor dispute

Posted: Monday, November 12, 2007

In my letter to the editor that appeared in the Oct. 9 Juneau Empire regarding recruitment and retention of state employees, I deliberately left out one major issue in the interest of keeping that letter somewhat short. Upon further reflection, however, I think the issue needs to be addressed. The issue I refer to is state employee morale.

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There are a number of other issues that should be addressed at some point such as the effect of state employee's lack of disposable income on the well being of local businesses, but I will leave those topics to be addressed by someone else.

The effect of low wages on the state work force over such a long period of time has resulted in a large vacancy rate in many positions. These vacancies have forced many state employees to assume the duties of two or three positions. Toiling under an ever increasing workload while at the same time receiving little or no increase in wages creates an atmosphere of cynicism and despair. From conversations that I have had with fellow workers, it is apparent that morale in my department is as low as it has ever been.

The obvious question arises. If things are that bad why haven't I left yet. Well, in truth, I have come close to leaving state employment several times. Nevertheless, I like my job and the people I work with, and up until now, I have held out the vain hope that the state will finally realize how bad things are and try to address the salary issue.

But it is apparent from Annette Kreitzer's My Turn column in the Oct. 10 Juneau Empire that the state still doesn't get it.

She states in that column that the size of the state's current work force is too large. However, is holding wages down the best tool to shrink the size of government? All that will do is drive away the most capable and qualified individuals since they have many options for employment. What the state will be left with are the individuals that can't get a job anywhere else.

Commissioner Kreitzer started off her Oct. 10 My Turn article in the Empire with this statement: "This year, the state has offered the best union contracts in 15 years. What else can the state do to attract and retain professional, well-qualified employees?"

The fact that this is the best offer in 15 years isn't saying much since we have received almost nothing in wage increases in the last 15 years. The current offer will barely keep up with inflation for the next three years and will do nothing to correct what we have lost over the past 20 years. Her second sentence makes it sound as if the state is doing all it can to address the issue. Frankly, that's an insult to our intelligence.

The bottom line on the morale issue is directly linked to the issue of poor wages. Will this issue get addressed in the current contract negotiations with state employees or will another bad contract be the last straw for many state employees?

We will see.

John Carlile


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