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State Employees Seek Relief After 2 Years Of No Raises, Shrinking Retirement Benefits

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Plowing snow and spreading salt, as Department of Transportation workers did Thursday night, is a pretty thankless job.

In fact, it might be hard to imagine performing that job for a company that doesn't give a raise, doesn't put money away for employees' retirement and that increases employees' cost for health insurance.

But that's the situation state workers have been in for the last two years. They're wondering if there's any relief in sight.

State employees are feeling squeezed after two years with no pay raise, increasing health-care costs and shrinking retirement benefits.

J.C. Boykin, a maintenance supervisor at N.C. State, has a long list of worries.

"The health care, the retirement benefits and compensation for salaries," he said. "Those are three things the Legislature is going to have to address."

Turnover in state government averages 12 percent to 15 percent a year. Over the last few years, workers say, the state has done little to keep its workers on board.

For example, during the 2001-2002 budget year, the cost of living went up nearly 2 percent. State employees got a $625 bonus.

For the current budget year, the cost of living is again up more than 2 percent. State employees will get two extra weeks vacation instead of a raise.

Although salaries stayed flat, the cost of doctors' visits and prescription drugs also went up. Insurance premiums for family members rose 30 percent.

State workers are also watching their retirement nest eggs dwindle. Over the last three years, employees contributed 6 percent of their salaries to the retirement system.

In 2000, the state put in more than 5 percent. In 2001, state contributions dropped to below 2 percent.

Last year, the state contributed nothing toward retirement. Gov. Mike Easley has acknowledged that the trend can't go on much longer.

"We have to address that this year," Easley said. "Because, as the economy turns, the knowledgable worker is going to be much more in demand, and they're going to look to state government for it. So all those issues will be addressed in this year's budget."

Easley said he will fund the retirement system in his next budget. He also promised to pay back the money that should have gone in during this budget year.

Some state employees have called the last budget disappointing, irresponsible and disgraceful.