published Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Haslam denies raises for some state workers

  • photo
    Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is pictured in this file photo. (Photo by Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel)

NASHVILLE — Departing from long-standing state practice, Gov. Bill Haslam is refusing to grant legislatively mandated pay raises to hundreds of state workers who have been disciplined over the past year.

Tennessee State Employees Association leaders call the move “mean-spirited” and say they are exploring legal action. TSEA officials, however, acknowledge courts might come out with a liberal interpretation and affirm the Republican governor’s ability to deny the raises.

The across-the-board pay increases of 1.6 percent for an estimated 42,000 executive branch workers — their first in four years — went into effect July 1.

Most were implemented, but in a June 28 Cabinet meeting, according to a memo written by state Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter, the governor and top officials excluded employees who have “been demoted, suspended or received more than one written warning in the past year.”

That was later changed to two written warnings.

“The policy speaks for itself in that the administration believes the increase should be provided to state employees that are adequately doing their jobs,” Haslam spokesman David Smith said when asked about the unannounced policy change.

TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said the new policy changes the rules in the middle of the game and punishes employees twice for the same infraction. He said the group’s survey of seven of the state’s 22 departments indicates 458 employees have been denied a pay increase.

One Correction Department worker, who was highly praised in a recent evaluation, did not receive a pay increase because she was suspended after refusing to work a double shift following surgery, O’Connell said. Not giving her the pay raise is “pathetic,” he said.

“I don’t know why they came up with [the policy change],” O’Connell said. “I just feel it’s mean-spirited. It’s fundamentally unfair.”

In a July 5 letter to Haslam, O’Connell and TSEA President Philip Morson emphasized they are not contesting long-standing language in annual appropriations bills that deny across-the-board increases to employees “on the basis of unsatisfactory job performance” as determined by their evaluations. But Morson and O’Connell drew distinctions between “satisfactory performance” and “satisfactory conduct.”

“No authority exists for denying the raise based on prior disciplinary action, which is a separate consideration from unsatisfactory work performance,” they wrote.

“We are still looking into whether or not there’s a legal challenge,” O’Connell said. “It doesn’t look real encouraging. But we haven’t decided.”

Responding with his own letter to Morson and O’Connell on Monday, Haslam countered that “we do believe that unacceptable conduct is a good reason for an employee not to receive the raise.”

He referred TSEA’s additional questions to Human Resources Commissioner Hunter, a former Hamilton County personnel director.

Hunter spokesman John McManus said this year’s appropriations bill “broadly states that employees may be denied the salary increase based on poor job performance. In setting the framework for the Salary Administration Plan, the governor’s Cabinet unanimously agreed that performance includes discipline and Performance Evaluation scores.”

McManus took issue with O’Connell’s estimates of 458 employees affected in just seven of the state’s departments. In an email, he estimated roughly 2 percent of the state’s estimated 42,000 executive branch employees were denied pay raises, which works out to 840 people. Actual totals won’t be known until next week, he said.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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miriamallen said...

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July 14, 2011 at 1:07 a.m.
Leaf said...

Speaking as a state employee, I say, "good." I wish that good employees in government service were rewarded and bad ones punished, instead of just being shuffled off to a position where they can do less harm.

However, I still profoundly distrust Haslam's motives and his network of super-rich buddies.

July 14, 2011 at 9:01 a.m.
woody said...

Well said, Leaf..However, punishing anyone for not working a "double" after surgery is going 'waaaaaaay' over the top..Woody

July 14, 2011 at 9:52 a.m.
duckfaulkner said...

I am a State Employee as well and I say GREAT DECISION! Why on earth should someone who has had disciplinary action receive the same raise as someone who has done a fantastic job in their position? Hopefully, this move will help some employees realize their effort or lack thereof will be noticed.

July 14, 2011 at 10:51 a.m.
duckfaulkner said...

@Libertarians@4Freedom... just a reminder that Public Sector employees pay taxes as well. AND my purchases of your goods and/or services feed you as well. It is reciprocal my friend.

July 14, 2011 at 10:53 a.m.
Selah said...

duckfaulkner...thanks for the clarification. Ego brought back down. lol

July 15, 2011 at 6:24 a.m.
teach_them_all said...

So does this mean that the taxpayers and voters can evaluate the elected officials to determine whether or not they get paid? Sounds like a good system to me.

July 16, 2011 at 5:50 p.m.
Billk said...

Leaf as a state employee myself it is ones that dont show up for work and dont do their job at my department that gets punishment.. So is that fair i think not.. Since you are so good come to my job and work it for a year and see if you get wrote up since you do your job so well!!!

July 17, 2011 at 8:19 p.m.
Billk said...

.....dont get punished...

July 17, 2011 at 8:20 p.m.
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