WRAL Investigates

State workers' longevity pay less than legislative staffers'

Posted July 6, 2010
Updated July 7, 2010

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— The men and women who teach in North Carolina’s public schools, protect the roads and conduct the state's business have labored with sporadic cost-of-living raises in recent years.

One thing long-term state workers count on is longevity pay. No matter the economic climate, most state employees earn a 1.5 percent automatic pay bump after 10 years. It gradually climbs to 4.5 percent after 25 years of service.

Longevity pay isn't considered a raise, but the $150 million in extra pay for long-term state workers is rolled into the nearly $11 billion state payroll each year.

“If we can give longevity pay as a little something to keep folks around who know what they're doing, we need to do that,” said Ardis Watkins, director of legislative affairs for the State Employees Association of North Carolina.

WRAL Investigates has found a major disparity in who gets those built-in increases, however.

The longevity pay of most state workers pales when compared with the pay bumps for legislative staff. State lawmakers aren't eligible, but for the assistants, analysts and advisers who work for legislators, longevity pay is far better than most every other state worker.

North Carolina flag, NC flag, state flag, N.C. flag WRAL Investigates: Longevity pay for state workers

In five years, for example, legislative staffers get an automatic 4.8 percent increase, or more than a 25-year rank-and-file employee. The rate climbs to 19.2 percent for legislative staff who have at least 20 years on the job.

“The bottom line is the average rank-and-file state employee isn't getting what folks are connected to the political system are getting,” Watkins said.

The longest-serving legislative staffers, all with respected 30-plus-year careers, are guaranteed nearly 20 percent bonuses every year.

Computer clerk John Young gets a base pay of less than $18,000. His yearly bonus is $3,400. Committee assistant Joan Leatherman earns an extra $5,700. Bill room supervisor Mary Pope gets an automatic $9,000. Administrative assistant Agnes Perry earns an extra $11,000.

After 32 years, Bill Drafting Division director Gerry Cohen earns $181,000 a year in base pay. He tacks on nearly $35,000 in longevity pay. That's more than the average salary for state employees. Watkins represents those workers and calls the disparity “outrageous.”

When asked if the practice is fair, House Speaker Joe Hackney said, “It's been in place, I don't know, 20 to 25 years, and anything can be re-examined. We like to do anything we can for all state employees.”

Hackney, D-Orange, said legislative longevity mirrors the automatic increases for judges, district attorneys and court clerks. Members of the state Utilities Commission, who are appointed by the governor, also qualify for the higher longevity pay rate, while North Carolina Education Lottery employees don't get longevity pay.

Passed in 1988, longevity pay was seen as a way to reward reliable long-term staff at the General Assembly. Staffers serve at the pleasure of lawmakers, so they don't have the same protections as many other state workers.

Last year, Gov. Beverly Perdue proposed a temporary cut in all longevity pay to save money. Lawmakers quickly killed it, but was it a case of lawmakers protecting their own staff?

“The people we heard from the most were not from our own staff, but from the judicial branch,” Hackney said.

House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman said lawmakers “might need to take a look to make sure those are evened up.”

“I wasn't here when that was done, so I can't speculate on differences, but I'd certainly be willing to take a look at it,” said Holliman, D-Davidson.

As for Watkins, she said that she doesn’t “doubt for a minute they would hate to see it go and fight to keep it.”

Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said that, when future budget shortfalls arise, longevity pay will get a second look.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • ecupiratz Jul 9, 2010

    I have been with the state 10 years and once again another inequity rears its ugly head. I thought teachers getting a step increase every year regardless of budget issues while rank and file employees get nothing was an outrage, but this takes the cake!!! We are all state employees and all of us should receive the same benefit. My job is specialized and a so called "high end" job but I believe that a secretary or janitor should be eligible for the same percentage as I. If a teacher gets a step increase every year then I should too and so should the police officer or district attorney. If I am correct, this is how the totem pole looks like in Raleigh - Legislature, judicial positions, legislative staff, teachers, rank and file state employees. Not sure if I will make it through 10 more!!!!!!!!

  • qbcarol Jul 8, 2010

    As a 3 year state employee, I don't qualify for longevity pay, nor have a seen a pay increase, but in fact, been subjected to a furlough, due to "budget constraints". I would add further, that Gerry Cohen's bonus is more than my yearly pay! I wonder if Gerry gets outstanding performance reviews, because that's all I receive for my hard work, as a front line staff member working with young people struggling with mental illness. Thanks Gov!

  • amp805 Jul 7, 2010

    You go SCOT420. You are exactly right. Too many people spouting out on this comment section who don't know diddly-squat.
    We deserve every bit of that longevity, who are, by the way, only SPA employees. EPA employees are not eligible. I don't know about the legislative longevity and the WRAL report was an eye-opener to me. But since I don't know about it, I can't comment on it.

  • kuzin11 Jul 7, 2010

    Let's try some facts in this discussion. Fact: since 1971 until now, state employee's pay raises have averaged a hefty 1% per year. Inflation averages 3%. So, 39 years times 2% equals 78%. There are no merit raises to retain excellent workers. There is no step program within the pay grades. Overpaid? I think not. State employees are the last ones to get a raise and the first to take a deduction. If you have encountered a poor performing state employee, thank Human Resources and Employee Relations for they are the ones that do not believe in firing personnel. For performance issues, you need 3 written warnings to even be considered for dismissal. It's time for change people. Vote them all out and let's start over.

  • scot30 Jul 7, 2010

    "...How many work pass their normal shift for free (none) how many go in on Saturday/Sunday to catch up on paperwork for free (none) How many holidays do they get off (All / too many)..."

    map1agmachining - Your statement that NO state employees do any work for free is FALSE. I FREQUENTLY work past my normal shift, and guess what? It's FREE! Myself and other members of my team work on Sunday at least once a month. Guess what? It's FREE! Occasionally we also work on a holiday...and that's done for FREE also! We're salaried, with NO overtime and NO comp time. We get NOTHING extra for working over 40 hours a week, or on weekends, or on holidays. Some state employees (mostly management) may have a good salary and a cushy job, but things aren't so rosy for ALL state employees. You people who make blanket statements about ALL state employees are usually WRONG with NO facts to back up what you're saying. Some state employees are actually hard workers, believe it or not.

  • FE Jul 7, 2010

    "FE - I did not vote for Obama...and, I am not for socialized medicine...you know nothing about me..." - ncwolf08

    Methinks you need to don your glasses before you make disparaging comments about the posts of others.

    I have NEVER mentioned the word "Obama" in this thread - not that I would care to do so anyway, but that is a different topic altogether.

    You are more than welcome to go back and read each of my prior posts for further clarification.


  • arfamr1006 Jul 7, 2010

    Well, they can become state employees then and get the 80/20 plan. (which only applies to themselves and not to their family-thats extra)By the way,my last job in sales had basically the same plan. It wasn't good then and the state plan isn't good now. Have to make a financial decision before taking someone to the hospital rather than a health decision. Does what my daughter have justify a $200 co pay, and having to pay 20% of a several thousand dollar bill or can she just tough it out?
    Plenty Coups

    let her die then...since its not worth the money and all. I bet you can't wait to get some "free Obama healthcare" huh? dee dee dee

  • FE Jul 7, 2010

    redspringsean - What part of my original comment ("especially since the employee receives it AT NO COST") is not true??

    Agreed there have been changes re PPO/indemnity. As for the high charges for spouse/children/family I agree those are high, quite possibly to offset the "free" coverage a state employee can get. At least the state makes those premiums pre-tax, which means that your out-of-pocket costs are less than the actual premiums paid.

    I always have found it strange that the state makes NO distinction between the coverage costs for one child versus the coverage costs for multiple/many children.

    Everyone likes to fuss about insurance and medical costs. With the probable exception of Detroit autoworkers, it is unrealistic to expect "free" visits to the doctor. A more productive approach might be to work on some fraud in the system and to reduce the built-in costs that result in doctors looking over their shoulders due to anticipated malpractice claims.


  • barnzez Jul 7, 2010

    Glad to see this one has fizzled out!

  • redspringssean Jul 7, 2010

    FE-You make an interesting point too but it isn't true. The state has changed over to a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) and no longer offers the indemnity plan. The cost a mere $600/mo if you are insuring your family or spouse. And wow the copays are real great too $30 for primary care visits and $70 if you see a specialist. Now I don't know what the counties offer their employees but it's probably better than this. My wife had a job in the private sector and the benefits were much better. I think most state employees would be very happy if our health insurance plan was taken out of the control of the legislators and privitized but that won't happen.