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Union petition claims Division of Highways wage structure unfair

Wages are low at the state Division of Highways, raises are rare, turnover rates are high and the agency is "approaching the breaking point," a union representative for government workers said Thursday.

The union will present Department of Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox with a petition today requesting a "fair wage structure" for employees, UE Local 170 organizer John Thompson said. It contains more than 1,000 signatures from Highways workers around the state.

"Not paying people decent money, not giving people raises, they've just about broken the state agencies. They've got to do something," Thompson said.

UE Local 170 represents about 300 Division of Highways workers statewide. The union filed a Freedom of Information Act request last year for data on worker wages and seniority around the state.

Thompson presented the group's findings to lawmakers at an interim meeting last August: of the 2,454 transportation workers in the state's 10 highways districts, more than half - 1,290 - have been with the department less than four years.

Those figures indicate the department is unable to retain experienced workers over time, Thompson said.

Lawmakers also heard from workers, including one man who worked for the agency for more than 10 years and still made $10.80 per hour, the starting wage for some new hires.

"Nobody ever moves up their pay grade for their classification," Thompson told the Daily Mail Thursday.

He said the lack of raises has led to low morale, and has made it difficult to find new employees.

Traveling around the state collecting signatures for the petition, Thompson said he heard a common refrain among workers: "We can't hire people. People are quitting in droves."

He said people would be more inclined to work for the state if they believed there were opportunities for advancement.

Thompson would like to see the transportation department adopt a raise structure similar to the one used by the West Virginia Parkways Authority, which guarantees employees a raise every five years.

"That's fair enough for the West Virginia Parkways, it should be fair enough for the Division of Highways."

Carrie Bly, Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said changing the wage structure might be out of the department's hands.

"Some of the things they're asking for, we don't set that structure. That's (the Division of) Personnel," she said.

Bly said the transportation department is having difficulty filling some of its open positions in certain areas of the state.

There are about 600 vacancies right now, although Bly said "that's not a drastic number for us."

She said the transportation department employs more workers than any other state agency - about 6,000 in all - and has always dealt with large numbers of vacancies.

Recently, northwestern West Virginia has been hit hard with vacancies because of the oil and natural gas boom.

"They are getting hit harder by the industry because they can pay more. We have a lot of people going to the private sector because we can't compete," Bly said.

But it's a perennial problem. Bly said the agency experienced large numbers of vacancies in the southern part of the state when coal mines were booming about 10 years ago.

"Right now the coal industry isn't doing as well as it used to be, so now people are coming to us," she said.

Department spokesman Brent Walker told the Daily Mail last year the state Division of Personnel has been working with the Hay Group consulting firm for several years to analyze job classifications and wages.

A report on that review was expected by the end of 2012 but according to the Division of Personnel's website, the work still is ongoing.

Division of Personnel spokeswoman Diane Holley Brown said the agency still is reviewing job classifications and, once that's finished, will begin looking at compensation levels for every state job.

Brown said it probably would be a long time before any change is rolled out.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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