The State Employee Association of North Carolina (SEANC) is lobbying on behalf of state workers in favor of a 5% pay raise for the next two years. 

The Senate budget bill, for comparison, offers a 2.5% raise while the House bill offers a 4.25% raise. Included in SEANC’s demands are also a $5,000 bonus to help retain workers and a 2% cost of living adjustment for retirees. 

All of this comes as an effort to not just retain employees but also as an attempt to recruit more employees to cover the vast vacancies across state government agencies. 

According to a report by the Office of State Human Resources (OSHR), 23.4% of all NC state government jobs are vacant as of Dec. 2022. Additionally, about 37% of state employees leave within just one year of being hired. 

Suzanne Beasley is the Government Relations Director for SEANC, and during an interview with CJ said that the goal of a cumulative 10% raise would be to “ hopefully draw some good candidates for some of the vacant positions that we’re having a hard time filling and also add a retaining effect to some of these positions.”

“10% over two years still isn’t going to touch the rate of inflation, but nonetheless it seems like just enough money that will at least make somewhat of a difference to people,” she added.

Taxpayer burden for decreased services

According to the same OSHR report, higher vacancies make it hard to provide vital state services to the public, translating into longer lines at the DMV, fewer available beds in state hospitals, and shortages in prisons and juvenile facilities putting officers at risk. 

“This is a taxpayer issue, taxpayers are getting nearly 25% less of the services that they’re paying for, And that’s a problem,” Beasley stated. 

This decrease in the state’s ability to meet public demand for government services affects more than just individuals seeking those government services.

“Take, for example, the lack of meat in grocery stores,” Beasley told CJ.  “Because an inspector has to be present when an animal is slaughtered for the public food chain, and we don’t have enough inspectors, this means less meat is available,”

Furthermore, high employee turnover is costing North Carolina millions according to a report by Deloitte which found “The cost of losing one employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to 1.5-2X their annual salary.”

Prison safety concerns 

Among the agencies that have suffered the most vacancies are the adult correction/public safety agencies (27.1%), the Health and Human Services agency (25.9%), and Transportation (21.7%).

Todd Ishee, Secretary for the Department of Adult Corrections, stated during his confirmation hearing: “I don’t see a quick fix to significant staff challenges that we have. In 2021, we lost more than we hired as an agency. In 2022, on the prison side, we broke even.”

According to Spectrum News, of the 57 North Carolina prisons, 31 have had to close units to reduce the prisoner population due to staffing problems.

On the other hand, incidents in Juvenile detention facilities are rising due to the lack of facility staffing which is at 50% for facilities of this sort across the state. 

“Incidents are increasing because of it, but the biggest thing is we have to make sure we provide [are] these services for these kids to make sure these kids don’t become lifelong criminals,” William Lassiter, Deputy Director of the Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for the Department of Public Safety told WRAL.

State worker compensation

Since 2013, state employee pay has lagged behind inflation by 9.1%. Compared to market pay, state employees lag even further behind by 14.8% over the last ten years.

Commissioner Josh Dobson for the Department of Labor stated “We currently have close to a 25% vacancy rate in the positions allotted for compliance. To add positions and recruit new compliance officers, we have to provide a more competitive salary.” 

Other states like Florida and Georgia have already recently increased pay for government workers. Florida passed legislation providing a 5.38% pay raise and Georgia provided their workers with a $5,000 cost of living adjustment in 2022, according to the OSHR report. 

Meanwhile, OSHR has already implemented a series of policy steps to help the state government better recruit and retain employees, albeit without actually providing any unilateral raises. These include:

  • Adding market-based pay factors to allow agencies to adjust pay compensatory with skill
  • Increase salary flexibility
  • Retention bonuses
  • End salary history question
  • Added more telework or hybrid work options
  • Giving paid parental leave to employees at all cabinet and participating state agencies
  • Giving personal observance leave to employees at all cabinet and participating state agencies
  • Increase the ability to hire trainees 
  • Expanded sign-on bonuses

Yet as the OSHR report adds, “dedicated resources for salary increases may be needed at some agencies where employees are especially below the market.”

Regardless of whether SEANC’s demands are met, OSHR already has a set of possible solutions set aside to try to solve NC’s state government vacancy crisis.