Jefferson City – They came from Poplar Bluff and Nevada, St. Joseph and St. Louis and other points between, but the state workers who descended on Jefferson City today came with the same message: a rejection of the zero percent pay increase passed by the General Assembly and Missouri’s lowest-in-the-nation state worker wages.
“I’ve worked with developmentally disabled adults for 17 years with the state, but still I’m not paid enough to get by without working second and third jobs,” noted Juma Jones of St. Louis, “that’s why I’m here to reject the inadequate zero percent increase approved by the state.”
Jones was one of dozens of state workers in a delegation that descended on Jefferson City last month from Veterans homes, mental health facilities and correctional institutions across the state. Other state workers from Jefferson City joined them at the Truman Building, where many state agencies are headquartered.
Workers filed past a State of Missouri waste bin and tossed in zero percent pay increase vouchers bearing their names in a symbolic rejection of the pay plan included in the final budget for the 2016 fiscal year. Many held placards bearing their names and their personal reasons for rejecting the zero percent pay increase.
SUPPORT FOR HIGHER WAGES
Participants then walked to the Capitol, where they visited lawmakers prior to the end of the legislative session seeking support for a solution to Missouri’s state worker wage problem. Legislators were asked to join a bi-partisan group from both the House and Senate backing a five-year plan to lift state worker pay so that Missouri’s ranking matches its ranking in cost of living.
“Almost every legislator we talk to understands that state pay is a real problem, and we are trying to help them find a reasonable solution,” said Michelle Mason, a developmental aide who works with developmentally disabled adults at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center in St. Louis County.
“If policy makers can commit to making small but meaningful gains over several years, we can get to a place where our pay begins to match the importance of our work.”
PATTERN OF LOW PAY
In four of the last seven state budgets, including the one passed this April, state employees received no general salary increase. In the other three years, increases were minimal, never amounting to more than two percent.
Anemic state pay increases have led to other workforce problems, like the 17 percent turnover rate in 2014 for positions in Missouri’s executive agencies, with the vast majority of those turning over voluntarily.
LOWEST IN THE NATION
According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor, Missouri’s average annual state worker pay is $39,993. That’s about $1,000 per year less than the next lowest state and more than $2,350 per year less than any state that borders Missouri.
While Missouri state pay lags, the costs of living for Missourians far outstrips what state employees earn.
According to the Missouri Department of Economic Development, there are 16 states whose average annual cost of living is lower than Missouri’s, but none of those states pay their workers less, on average, than Missouri does.
State workers and their supporters in the broader community can learn more and sign on as supporters by visiting www.RaiseMoWages.com.