I am compelled to respond to the March 1 editorial counterpoint from state Rep. Marion O’Neill (“The truth behind the delay in ratification of state worker contracts,” responding to “With veto fight over, ratify state contracts,” Feb. 27).

As O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, indicates, the negotiated contracts call for cost-of-living increases of 2 percent for the first year and 2.25 percent for the second. She points out that more than half of state employees have not yet reached the tops of their pay ladders and would therefore receive step increases in addition to the cost-of-living increases.

But step increases are intended to raise real purchasing power for individual employees as their experience and skills increase; they are not a substitute for cost-of-living increases.

O’Neill is grossly incorrect in implying that the combined step and cost-of-living increases equate to increases in overall average pay. She doesn’t mention that every year people leave state employment, for retirement or other reasons, and generally fall off the pay ladder at or near the top. Others enter state employment at or near the bottom.

This dynamic must be considered in assessing the growth of average wages. If you look at the ladder on a playground slide, with children entering at the bottom and leaving at the top, the average position of children on the ladder remains the same. We are only asking to raise the ladder enough to keep up with inflation.

O’Neill did not present an apples-to-apples comparison of wage growth in the public and private sectors. I have done a comparison using data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, available on the Labor Market Information website of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. According to that data, the average weekly wage of Minnesota private-sector employees grew 54 percent from 2000 to 2016, while the comparable average weekly wage of Minnesota state government employees grew 47 percent.

We are not asking to get ahead of the private sector, just to stay even.

 

David Berry is a research scientist at the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry and a member of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees.