State Civil Service employees have gone without a 4 percent merit pay raise for three years now because of budgetary restrictions, brought on in large part by a Piyush Jindal administration that refuses to apply for federal grants for needed projects and by Jindal’s insistence on granting more and more tax breaks to corporate entities who take the money and, in at least one case, cease operations within a year or so.
No one is saying that grant money can be used to fund employee pay raises but when federal funds for broadband internet ($80.6 million), early childhood development ($60 million), and $5 billion a year in tax exemptions are taken out of the budgetary mix, the money must be made up from other sources.
Because of constitutionally mandated spending, there are only two areas where cuts may be made: higher education and health care. And of course, there is always the suspension of pay raises.
Accordingly, Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC)–once known by its archaic nom de plume, the Department of Labor–sent an email to all his employees on Sept. 26 which informed them thusly:
Dear Fellow LWC Employees,
As you are aware, the LWC has experienced significant reductions in funding over the last four years as the demand for our services increased. That has put a lot of added pressure on many of you, and you should know that your efforts are greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, the combination of funding reductions and increased services also puts a tremendous strain on our budget, and we continue to struggle to maintain staffing levels in certain areas.
Yesterday afternoon, I submitted a request to Civil Service for the Layoff Avoidance Measure of withholding performance adjustment pay increases (or merit increases) for the upcoming year. I sincerely regret that this is necessary for a third year in a row, but I made this request to minimize the impact of budget pressures on our levels of staffing and on the agency.
I appreciate your dedication and patience as we work through these tough financial times. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Well, wasn’t that special? Eysink, in an effort to avoid layoffs, was willing to allow his employees to bite the bullet on behalf of the greater good by denying them pay raises, even though he “sincerely” regretted the action.
But wait. While he was sacrificing 4 percent increases for virtually his entire agency, Eysink was apparently attempting a backdoor salary bump of some $20,000 per year (40.8 percent), from $47,570 to $67,000, for a single employee.
Jonie Smith, Emerging Workforce Manager (for programs involving community action agencies, veterans and disabled workers), was approved by the state Civil Service Commission for an increase from $47,570 to $67,000 despite restrictions that would have limited her increase to only $53,000.
This is the same Civil Service Commission that rubber stamped the privatization plan for the Office of Group Benefits that will cause about 120 workers in that agency to lose their jobs. (Is it just us, or does anyone else see the Civil Service Commission as becoming just another Jindal dancing monkey in much the same mode as the Ethics Commission and the Louisiana Legislature?)
Not that one member, at least, didn’t try to discourage the big raise.
Briefly, here’s a recap of what went down:
Smith apparently got a job offer from the private sector and Eysink felt she was just too valuable to lose. Civil Service rules allow a state agency to match a private sector offer and in this particular case a match would have boosted her salary by $5,430, or 11.4 percent—nearly three times the 4 percent merit raise for state employees—if such raises still existed, which, of course, they don’t.
Even at that, agency officials lobbied for $67,000, causing commission member Scott Hughes to balk. Hughes observed that a lot of good employees have already been lost to layoffs. Another 1500 or so are slated to lose their jobs (just in time for Christmas, no less) through massive cutbacks in services by the LSU healthcare system.
“I’m not going to cast a vote to set a precedent for one employee,” he said, adding that other agencies might attempt similar moves. “I believe it’s a barn door we are opening that will not get shut.”
Commission Vice Chairman John McLure pooh-poohed Hughes’s concerns. “Given the current economic situation and the downsizing we have approved, we won’t see much of this,” he said somewhat incredulously.
Apparently, McLure has not been paying close attention to the news lately (see Tim Barfield, whom Jindal appointed Revenue Secretary at twice the salary of his predecessor).
It should also be noted that while Eysink pays the obligatory lip service to his employees by telling them how much he values and appreciates their dedication and patience, at least one staff member is valued and appreciated considerably more than the rest. Either that or he’s simply lying about how much he appreciates his workers in the first place. Of course, lying is certainly not new to this administration.
Remember Jindal’s disingenuous State Employee Appreciation proclamations the past three years? Were they not so cynical and such classic examples of sick humor, they’d almost be laughable. Almost.
Hughes did have one ally in Civil Service assistant director Jean Jones.
While Ashley Gautreaux, LWC human resources director described Smith, who has worked for the agency since December of 2010, a “critical” employee, Jones said based on Civil Service records, Smith barely meets minimum job qualifications for the job she is in.
The commission predictably went along with the $19,430 per year pay raise with Hughes casting the only negative vote.
One LWC employee emailed LouisianaVoice expressing an attitude of being quite “p—sed” at the action.
That’s certainly easy to understand. Jindal has completely ignored this state since his re-election (with the exception of opportunities for camera face time during Hurricane Isaac). He is rarely even in the state anymore even as a dangerous sinkhole has caused evacuations in Assumption Parish. He is nowhere to be found even as the state’s economy is tanking, causing cutbacks in medical care, budget cuts to higher education which in turn precipitated tuition increases for already financially-strapped students—all while he pumps up salaries for his appointees (see Tim Barfield), fires doctors and college presidents and attorneys and continues to campaign for president—a goal, by the way, that he will never reach.
The question then is, with more than three years left for him to turn his nose up at the citizens who elected him, how much more of this boorish behavior is the state citizenry—and the legislature—willing to take off this arrogant Alfred E. Newman lookalike?
Perhaps Hammond attorney C.B. Forgotston said it best when he said it is time for us to move on because Bobby has. “It’s time for us to admit the truth: Bobby Jindal is finished with Louisiana,” he said.
“Bobby’s future is beyond the borders of Louisiana and he shows it every day. It’s time for the legislators to determine what type of state in which they want to live, not what Bobby leaves us.”