By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES – Want a job that fully covers health premiums? How about one that pays more money if you work a later shift? And provides stipends for clothes and shoes? And what about work that gives pay raises of as much as 15 percent even as other companies slash jobs and salaries?
Welcome to Iowa!
The state has long offered its state workers perks it says are essential in attracting top-quality job candidates. But critics observe that the incentives come at a cost to taxpayers and strain already squeezed budgets. They say the perks are unsupportable in a leaner economy.
Iowa Watchdog examined the perks employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, receive under their current contract. The review comes as state officials negotiate a new contract, in which Gov. Terry Branstad has called for substantial concessions to reduce state spending.
- The state fully covers the cost of single health premiums, while employees pay just 15 percent of the cost of a family plan. The plan doesn’t include a deductible and charges $15 for a standard doctor visit. The plan has a $250 out-of-pocket maximum for prescriptions under a single plan, while the family plan’s limit is $500. Co-payments range from $5 for generics to $30 for name-brand drugs that aren’t preferred by the insurance company.
- Workers who are laid off temporarily continue to receive state-funded health insurance and accrue sick and vacation time as if they were still on the clock. Employees can eventually cash out a portion of their leave time.
- Staff returning from leaves of absence and new employees are credited the average number of overtime hours worked by others in their work group. The hours can either be used as comp time or be paid out.
- Employees who are on-call receive 10 percent of their hourly salary for each hour they are on stand-by.
- State workers are entitled to as much as three hours of paid time off to vote in a general election.
- Employees who work a shift in which four or more hours fall between 6 p.m. and midnight receive an extra 60 cents an hour. Those who work four or more hours between midnight and 6 a.m. get 65 cents added to their hourly wages.
- Workers who are reassigned to a position at least 25 miles away from their home receive a moving stipend of as much as $50,000. The money can be used to market their current home, pay closing and inspection costs, settle outstanding leases, and travel associated with the move. Employees also can use up to 80 hours of paid time to move, close on a sale or conduct other “incidental activities.”
Since taking office, Branstad has pledged to reduce government spending by 15 percent, partly by eliminating automatic pay raises and requiring workers to make contributions toward their medical and dental insurance. His administration is also pushing for the state’s largest union to give Iowa officials more say in the size of government and its workforce, according to Branstad’s initial proposal to the union.
Leon Shearer, the governor’s advisor on labor and management issues, is leading negotiations with the union for a new contract that would take effect next fiscal year. Branstad’s push for concessions provides a stark contrast to three years ago, when then Gov. Chet Culver signed off on the union’s initial proposal on the heels of losing his re-election bid.
Brian Jennings, spokesman for Iowa AFSCME, and Shearer did not return requests for comment. Representatives from AFSCME’s national office directed comment to Jennings.
Culver’s unusual move afforded state employees salary increases that ranged from 1 percent to as much as 15 percent, depending on where they were on the pay scale. It also extended the state’s commitment to fully fund insurance premium for single workers. Dick Oshlo, director of the Department of Management at the time, estimated the two-year deal would cost Iowans an estimated $70.4 million.
“The bargaining process has evolved in a fashion that management rights to address changes are extremely limited,” Shearer wrote in a report requested by Branstad. “The business of running a state is big business and is very complicated. However, the mood of the nation is clearly becoming one of change from big government to effective, efficient government.”
“Responding to such a mood cannot be accomplished by minor changes,” he added. “Sweeping changes in government management needs [to be] evaluated.”
Sheena Dooley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IAWatchdog.
Edited by email@example.com.