Nearly 200 state employees participated in a rally at the Capitol Wednesday, saying their salaries have not kept pace with the rising costs of health insurance, food and other necessities.
The head of the Kentucky Association of State Employees choked up as he read aloud a letter penned by a female social worker who has worked in state government nine years.
David Smith, executive director of KASE, said he changed the woman’s name to Carrie to protect her from possible retaliation.
The woman wrote that she bought her home seven years ago and refinanced her mortgage last year, but foreclosure is imminent because she cannot afford the monthly payments. Six years ago her salary was $29,000 and her paycheck $912. Now she takes home $860 per paycheck, a loss of more than $1,200 annually.
The woman said she could barely afford food and gas.
“This should be illegal,” Smith said.
Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget proposal includes the first raises for state workers since fiscal year 2010. During the first year of the biennium, those earning less than $27,000 would get a 5 percent bump in pay, 3 percent for those making between $27,001 and $36,000, 2 percent for salaries between $36,001 and $50,000, and 1 percent for those making more than $50,001. An across-the-board 1 percent raise would be issued in fiscal year 2016.
Brent Sweger, president of the Kentucky Transportation Employees Association, said his pay has diminished about $12,000 since he started with the Transportation Cabinet. State agencies have had difficulty retaining employees because they can earn more working in the private sector or for county and municipal governments.
Some who remain in state government need second jobs to make ends meet, and others fare worse, he said.
“We have other employees who have to get Section 8 housing or are on food stamps just to scrape by,” Sweger said. “This is pathetic. It’s unconscionable, and to have state employees in this situation, this has got to stop.”
Sen. Julian Carroll said attrition, too, has taken its toll on the ranks of state workers. He said he often hears of employees taking on the responsibilities of one or two departed co-workers; one has taken on the work of five former colleagues.
Carroll, D-Frankfort, urged the crowd, many in bright yellow Transportation Cabinet jackets, to contact their representatives and senators as the budget process begins.
“Your fight has just started,” Carroll said, “and for the first time you have people talking about your problems. For the first time they’re beginning to understand the plight of state employees.”