Nation's Lowest Paid State Employees Rally at Missouri Capitol

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JEFFERSON CITY - Wednesday's rain held off just long enough for public sector workers from across the state to rally on the state capitol steps. Three State Workers Unions were in attendance including the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Service Employeees International.

Jeffrey Mazur, executive director of AFSCME, said the groups came to the capitol to make sure the public services they provide throughout the state are protected. He also said the workers would be talking with legislators about supporting budget bills that include an increase for state employees. "What people are recognizing now is we really can't sustain services of the highest quality in the state of Missouri without making sure that people are compensated on a rate that is far," Mazur said.

According to census data, Missouri's state employees rank 50th in the nation for wages. According to the Office of Administration, as of the end of last year, Missouri had nearly 52,000 state employees. The average salary for one of those full-time employees was $36,477.85.

Both the governor's and the house's budget proposal for next year include a 2 percent pay increase for state employees.

Bradley Harmon works in the children's division for social services and is the president of CWA Local 6355. He said, given what the current budget situation is in the state right now, he would certainly take 2 percent. But he said he has seen a number of good social services workers have to leave the job because of the low pay. "To do the right thing by their family they can't work 80 hours a week for $32,000 a year, it's just not tenable," Harmon said. 

According to a report last year from the Economic Policy Institute, Missouri's state employees make 16 percent less than someone doing an equivalent job in the private sector.

"In the agency I come from, people are forced to choose between working for the state or adequately providing for their families," Harmon said.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, served on the Joint Interim Committee on State Employee Wages. He said he supports the wage increases for state employees and said the state can certainly do better than 50 out of 50. Kehoe also said the committee is looking into coming up with a long-range plan instead of the quick fixes everyone once in while. "Let's give them a long range plan and address the situation and get out of that fiftieth ranking and get to a much better place," Keho said.