Gov. Parson holds out hope for $15 state worker minimum wage

The governor wrote a memo to state employees Monday asking for patience and expressing confidence his pay plan will succeed

By: - February 16, 2022 5:55 am

Gov. Mike Parson speaks to Republican members of the Missouri Senate at the GOP’s annual caucus in Branson in November 2020 (photo courtesy of Missouri Governor’s Office).

State employees anticipating a raise should be patient and it will arrive as soon as possible, Gov. Mike Parson wrote in a memo Monday to workers waiting for the pay boost he wanted to begin this month.

But for some, stretched by working overtime to complete work that would go to unfilled jobs and considering their earning power elsewhere, patience is running thin.

The pay raise plan Parson requested has already been slashed by the Missouri House and, on Wednesday, it will be up for a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The committee’s chairman, Sen. Dan Hegeman, who endorsed the plan in Parson’s December news release announcing the proposal, said he wasn’t certain how it would be viewed by his colleagues. 

“We’ll see where the committee goes,” Hegeman said. “I think we will get a sense of the committee.”

The bill up for a vote is the supplemental spending bill that Parson recommended at $5.3 billion and the House pared to $4.6 billion. It includes money to cover bills in the Medicaid program through the end of the fiscal year on June 30 and $1.9 billion in federal COVID relief for schools that must be appropriated by March 24.

Acknowledging they are among the lowest paid state workers in the nation, Parson asked lawmakers to increase the pay for all state workers by 5.5% and to set a base wage of $15 an hour for all state jobs. The House cut that back to a $12 an hour base wage across state government, with a $15 base for employees involved in the direct care of people housed in state institutions like veterans homes, prisons and mental health facilities.

Parson said the raise would take effect Feb. 1 but that date passed without any action. Payrolls for the first half of the month close this week and checks will be issued Feb. 28.

“Once passed by the General Assembly, the executive branch is committed to implementing salary increases for state team members as soon as possible,” Parson wrote in an email to state employees.

In the memo, Parson wrote that he was “disappointed” in the House action on the base wage and “we are hopeful that any final bill will include the $15 per hour baseline and the funds necessary to better pay state team members.”

Mary Likins, a specialist who works for the Children’s Division of the Department of Social Services, said she has been working many hours of overtime. In the 26th Judicial Circuit where she works — Camden, Laclede, Miller, Moniteau and Morgan counties — only 25 of the 65 slots in the Children’s Division are filled, she said.

The Children’s Division investigates cases of child abuse and neglect and oversees foster care and adoption programs, among other duties.

Likins took the job in 202o when she returned to the United States after working in Asia as an English teacher. She has no long-standing ties to the state, and it was the first job she was offered when she started applying after working overseas.

She already receives more than $15 an hour — her $34,000 base pay is about equal to $16.34 an hour — but would get a raise of about $36 a week before taxes under Parson’s pay plan. 

“Yes, the 5.5% would give me a little bit more wiggle room to live comfortably and take care of myself,” Likins said. “It is very difficult to practice your own well-being if you are working 60 hours a week if you are already on call.”

Since she started, Likins said, about two dozen people have left the Children’s Division in the 26th Circuit.

Parson last year vetoed pay raises targeted at several agencies, including the Children’s Division. Lawmakers appropriated money for 3 percent raises in the division, but Parson rejected them and wrote “specialized pay plans should be part of a comprehensive pay evaluation” in his veto message.

When he announced the plan, Parson said state agencies are experiencing annual turnover rates of 10- to 100% and vacancy rates range from 30- to 100%. In a presentation to the House Budget Committee, Budget Director Dan Haug said the $15 rate is needed to compete with other employers.

“We maintain that this approach continues to be necessary to strengthen our workforce recruitment and retention,” Parson wrote in the memo. “The work you do each and every day is critical for the more than six million Missourians we serve, and your salary should reflect that.”

The House set $12 as the base because that is what the minimum wage for private employers will be on Jan. 1, 2023, halfway through the coming fiscal year. The minimum wage for private employers currently is $11.15 an hour.

The mission statement of the Department of Social Services is to help Missourians “lead safe, healthy and productive lives,” Likins noted. Agency employees deserve the same, she said.

“I don’t know how we, the workers, are meeting the mission statement,” Likins said.

This story has been updated since it originally published. 

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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