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State employees comparatively well paid, but slipping
By The Associated Press
Minnesota Public Radio
October 10, 2001

ST. PAUL (AP) - Minnesota state employees are among the nation's best-paid, but the increases that members of two striking unions were offered were below prevailing wage gains recorded throughout Minnesota this year.

A 1999 survey of state employees' pay put the Minnesota average at $38,879 a year, fifth-highest in the nation behind California, New Jersey, Michigan and Ohio. The average state worker's salary, not counting benefits, reached $43,660 on Jan. 2, 2001, the Minnesota Department of Employee Relations reports.

Minnesota Department of Economic Security's most recent salary survey said state workers were paid 16 percent more than the state average for all industries.

The current average of members of Council 6 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is $30,000 a year, and the average for the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, the other striking union, is about $49,000.

It is less clear, however, how closely state jobs match those in the private sector. In August, MAPE produced a pay-equity study showing that 71.5 percent of its more than 500 job classifications were underpaid by comparison with the private sector. An additional 17 percent were at parity, while 11.5 percent were paid more.

A February 2000 report by the Minnesota legislative auditor found that higher-level jobs in state government tend to pay less than their private-sector counterparts.

Union members say their pay increases are not keeping up with those in the rest of the state.

The online forecasting firm reported that the sum of all wages in Minnesota, including overtime and bonuses, jumped 9.9 percent from 2000 to 2001, the second-highest increase in the nation.

Another report, by human resources consultant William M. Mercer Inc., said 1,500 firms nationwide planned to raise pay 4.4 percent this year and 4.3 percent the next.

By comparison, the state's offers to its two biggest unions were for annual raises of 2 and 3 percent, not including overtime or bonuses such as one-time payments of $200 to $500 also offered to union members.

Union members say their increases have lagged behind inflation rates. The average across-the-board annual settlement over that period for AFSCME, the larger of the striking unions, was 2.67 percent.

State officials say those raises have been supplemented by annual "step" increases to most workers based on their years of service, keeping them well ahead of inflation. But it is clear that at any given level of experience, state employees have lost purchasing power over the past 10 years.

Experts say that while public-sector employees may receive less money than those in the private sector, they typically receive better fringe benefits.

The state's current health insurance proposal, for example, would maintain something few other workers in Minnesota have: single coverage without a monthly premium.

For the first time, however, Minnesota's health plan proposal adds significant cost-sharing in the form of copayments, coinsurance and annual deductibles. While these pay-as-you-go measures are typical in private industry, the state proposal magnifies the burden for workers who choose expensive clinics.