AFSCME Council 18

NM Department of Transportation Wage Disparity Fueling Crisis in Morale and Operations

AFSCME Members and DOT Heavy Equipment Operators Jerry Pohl (Left) and Ken Heinsohn at 10/28 SPB meeting

On Monday, October 28, AFSCME Members from Department of Transportation (Dist. 6) attended the State Personnel Board meeting to raise the alarm that submarket pay and wage disparity issues are resulting in low morale and costly disruptions to DOT operations across the state.

It’s a familiar story at many state agencies. While state personnel aggressively promotes higher recruitment salaries to attract new and younger workers, they’re being trained and mentored by career employees who are often paid lower hourly wages.

In the face of fewer experienced and trained personnel, management rushes to put newer recruits into rotation and, at times, onto job assignments they’re not prepared to handle unsupervised. This has resulted in unexpected costs to the department as mistakes become more common.

AFSCME Representative Joel Villareal appealed to the board to use every mechanism at their disposal to address gross wage disparity. “When you start paying new people more than the one’s who have been there through thick and thin, it starts causing serious problems.”

SPO Director Gene Moser responded to AFSCME’s comments by pointing out that everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie, but that the “pie is getting smaller and smaller.”

Director Moser has been a big critic of a compensation system left behind by the Richardson administration. However, in this fourth year of Governor Martinez’s term, it seems that few of the concrete steps taken by SPO to address disparity have helped. As far as being able to attract skilled employees and maintaining staffing requirements, the state is “treading water” according to Moser.

Director Moser’s comments raise more questions when weighed against a recent Legislative Finance Committee report points to a 13.6% vacancy rate at Department of Transportation and a corresponding $7.7 million dollars in “vacancy savings”, or compensation funding that did not go to employees.

“The State Personnel Office has for years blamed the previous Governor for New Mexico’s noncompetitive salary structure.” Says Villareal. “AFSCME is encouraging the Governor, the Legislature, and the Personnel Office to examine an approximate $140 million in savings from unfilled vacancies state wide and earmark a fraction of those savings and future compensation funds to fairly compensate and retain New Mexico’s valuable and dedicated career employees.”

It’s common to hear State Personnel and some Legislators refer to the significantly lower number of state employees in 2013 as a “new normal.” Despite an overall 16.4% vacancy rate across all classified agencies, the legislature continues to provide funding at 100% levels. For the past few years, the Martinez administration has used those savings for other projects or returned the money to the general fund.

Before the legislature takes up the state budget in January, AFSCME members are asking that a system be in place to address crushing disparities that are felt daily and affect thousands of public employees across the state.

“The Department of Transportation used to be one of the best departments,” said Jerry Pohl, AFSCME Member and career NMDOT employee. “More is at stake than morale,” according to Pohl. If DOT can’t retain our experienced guys, then our ability to deliver the services citizens expect is in jeopardy.”

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