Thousands of Arizona state workers exchange job protections for pay boost - East Valley Tribune: Business

Thousands of Arizona state workers exchange job protections for pay boost

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Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 8:02 am

Nearly 5,300 state workers have agreed to give up their personnel system protections in exchange for a one-time pay boost and the prospects of more money later.

Kathy Peckardt, the state's human resources director, said Monday that 5,276 workers had met Friday's deadline to voluntarily opt out of merit protection out of 13,761 who were eligible. The remainder will keep their "covered'' status -- at least as long as they don't get a promotion.

The new uncovered workers join another 6,616 state employees who were forced to give up their personnel system protections under the terms of legislation pushed through earlier this year by Gov. Jan Brewer. About three-fourths of the approximately 34,000 state workers were covered before the change, meaning they had certain hearing and appeal rights in efforts to discipline or terminate them.

The most immediate benefit will show up when all these uncovered workers, both old and new, find a 5 percent bonus in their first paychecks issued next month. That was the carrot offered by Brewer and lawmakers.

But that bonus is just that: The bigger paychecks disappear on June 30.

Peckardt said she is pleased with that 38 percent acceptance rate.

"The numbers exceed any kind of idea we thought might happen,'' she said. Peckardt said that suggests to her that the employees "recognize the opportunities and values that the governor's personnel reform proposal provides.''

She said that goes beyond the larger paychecks for nine months, which translates out to a 3.75 percent pay hike over a one-year period, before taxes. Peckardt said her office provided other arguments for why workers should give up their covered status.

The big one -- other than the immediate cash -- was the possibility of future raises.

In general, state employees get more money only when the Legislature authorizes an across-the-board pay hike. Peckardt said that means the same money for everyone, regardless of performance.

This new system, she said, will allow supervisors to award pay hikes only to the most deserving workers.

The plan drew fire during legislative debate from Democrats who said it could lead to cronyism, with bosses doling out cash only to favored employees. Peckardt, however, said there are some protections built in, including having workers evaluated not only by supervisors but also coworkers.

The law did have exceptions for some public safety workers, allowing them to maintain their covered status.

But for the rest of state government, the new law is the beginning of the end for the current system of personnel rules: All new workers hired beginning in two weeks automatically are uncovered. And the state has an average turnover of 14 percent.

And existing employees who get a promotion -- or even a lateral transfer or demotion -- are stripped of their merit protections.

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