Iowa leaders, state workers tangle over employee pay

Consultant says state workers' pay compares favorably; union leaders say report 'bogus'

Pay ranges for state employees in Iowa on average are competitive with the compensation paid to workers in similar positions in the private sector and in public positions in other states, according to the findings of a consultant issued Tuesday.

The study of state employee compensation contracted by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services found mixed results, with pay ranges for 11 Iowa positions ranking higher than market value, while pay ranges for seven positions were below market value. Those figures come from an analysis conducted by Aon Hewitt, a firm that specializes in human resource issues, and released by DAS Director Mike Carroll and Michelle Minnehan-Golightly of the agency’s human resources bureau.

Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council (AFSCME) 61, the largest state employees’ bargaining unit, called the study “bogus” and lacking in credibility. He also complained that the full report was not immediately available at the Web site, where state officials said they would post both the executive summary and the full report.

“They’re going to do a report that gets them to the conclusion that they wanted to get to so that they can put it out to the public and try to convince the public of the state of Iowa that public employees are overpaid and have benefits that are better than anybody else,” Homan said in an interview. He noted that state employee wage and benefit levels have been the subject of collective bargaining since the mid-1970s and represent a give-and-take process, whereby workers have given up some things in establishing current compensation levels.

“This is more Terry Branstad smoke and mirrors, trying to make Iowa public employees look like they’re overpaid,” the AFSCME president added.

Branstad’s spokesman was not available for comment Tuesday.

Carroll said the first-ever state compensation analysis was conducted to provide a benchmark for future decision-making and had “nothing to do” with the new round of collective bargaining between the state and its employee unions that begin next month.

DAS officials said the Iowa study evaluated executive-branch 97 positions – representing about 71 percent of the state workforce – that they identified as representing a broad sampling of jobs from all functions, locations and levels of state employment. Aon Hewitt matched those positions to similar jobs in the public and private sectors.

According to the Aon Hewitt findings, the base pay for state employees in Iowa was 17.9 percent higher than the overall market. “Essentially, state of Iowa employees are occupying a higher place in the pay scale relative to their peers,” according to a DAS news release issued with a six-page executive summary of the Aon Hewitt study.

Of the 97 Iowa positions reviewed, the consultant established a subset of 46 positions to compare with public employees in other states and concluded that pay ranges for public employees in Iowa are significantly higher than other states. Pay ranges for 20 of the 46 positions are above the estimated market value and about 83 percent of the positions studied had average base pay 20 percent or higher than other states.

Based upon the study findings, the consulting firm concluded that the state of Iowa “may reduce or eliminate regular pay increases, particularly for employees who are paid above market. Over time, the state of Iowa’s competitive position on both base pay and total compensation will better align with market,” according to recommendations included in the Aon Hewitt executive summary.

Homan said he could not find any facts in the executive summary to back up the conclusions being made and he could not tell which public or which private-sector employees were being compared.

“Did they compare us to Wal-Mart?” Homan asked. “I see absolutely nothing credible in what I’ve been presented today.”

Retiring Iowa Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, issued a statement concerning the report saying public employees “deserve thanks, not political games.”

“This politically biased report by the Branstad administration is designed to mislead Iowa taxpayers,” Kibbie said in a statement.

He said a study by the Iowa Policy Project concluded that public employees in Iowa generally receive less overall compensation than similarly qualified employees in the private sector.

“Gov. Branstad should call a cease fire in his campaign against public employees,” Kibbie added.

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