Illinois State Workers’ Pay Out of Sync with Private Sector

Published August 15, 2011

Government employee unions in Illinois have sued the governor over his failure to give state workers a third raise in seven months.

During his 2010 reelection campaign, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) inked a “no-layoff” deal with the state chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. The deal included several rounds of raises during 2011.

However, after signing the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, Quinn said lawmakers tied his hands by not appropriating enough money to pay the $75 million in raises scheduled for July 1.

“Funding these raises would mean that these agencies would not be able to make payroll for the entire year, disrupting core services for the people of Illinois,” a Quinn spokesman said, referring to the agencies where the state employees work.

Lawsuit and Pickets

Furious at the governor’s alleged “assault on public employee collective bargaining,” AFSCME filed suit in federal court. The union also took its anger to the streets in July, picketing in more than 70 locations across the state.

Hoping to generate public sympathy, many picketers held signs that read, “Stand up for the middle class” and “Public servants deserve a fair wage.” However, a new report by the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute tells a much different story about state worker compensation.

Higher Pay and Benefits

The study found the average worker in 2008 received $69,500 in annual compensation. The average private sector worker’s compensation was approximately 23 percent lower, at $56,500.

Beyond this wide gap between those who are paid by government and those who pay for it, the study also found wages and benefits for private sector workers had declined 2.3 percent between 1993 and 2008, while wages and benefits for state government workers had climbed nearly 18 percent.

The study also found voluntary turnover in state government is about one-quarter the rate in the private sector, which indicates state workers know they’re receiving a plum deal, study author Wendell Cox said.

“The ultimate test is the value employees themselves place on the job,” said Cox. “The employee turnover rate at the state level is comparatively low, . . . which could indicate overall that employee compensation is higher than appropriate.”

Call for Concessions

Lawmakers and newspaper editorial boards in Illinois responded to the study with calls for the union to reconsider the pay raise demands.

“During financial hard times we all ‘must give a little’,” wrote Freeport, Ill. Rep. Jim Sacia, in a recent newsletter.

Another fact the investigation revealed was that the Illinois state government does not maintain sufficiently detailed information about its workforce. To compile the Institute’s report, Cox and other researchers at the Illinois Policy Institute sent numerous public document requests and consulted federal data.

“The first step in identifying options for achieving fairness in government worker compensation is to understand its present cost,” Cox wrote in his report.

Transparency Elsewhere

Although Illinois fails to make workforce data readily available to the public, other states do.

Pennsylvania, similar in size to Illinois, offers a best practices model for workforce reporting and government transparency. The state maintains a “Workforce Statistics” database online, which provides illuminating statistics such as costs per employee, average employee age, and length of service. The online dashboard also offers valuable information to rank-and-file workers, such as paid time off policies and how their compensation stacks up against pay awarded to another bargaining union.

“With state labor contracts up for renewal this year, Pennsylvania’s new state workforce data portal helped provide context for taxpayers and labor advocates on compensation, size, total cost of benefits, and tenure of government employees,” said Nathan Benefield, director of policy analysis at the Commonwealth Foundation, a Pennsylvania think tank.

Better Workforce Reporting

Cox said Illinois cannot begin to bridge the gap between public and private sector compensation until the Illinois state government develops an extensive workforce report.

“Pennsylvania’s Web site provides much of the necessary management information and could be used as a model for Illinois and other states,” Cox said. “A comprehensive state employee compensation reporting system should be implemented without delay.”

Diana Sroka Rickert ([email protected]) is manager of media relations at the Illinois Policy Institute.