Arkansas Workforce Retention Taskforce Meeting and State Employee Public Forum Minutes

Thursday, February 25th, 2016 5:00 p.m. at the University of Arkansas Community College, Hemptead Hall in Hope, AR

Meeting called to order by John Bridges, Chairman for Arkansas Workforce Retention Taskforce

John Bridges introduces taskforce members: Ron Stark with ADH, David Flake with Parks and Tourism, Kay Barnhill with Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Amy Valentine with DF&A.

John Bridges recognized the elected officials that came to meeting: Senator Larry Teague from Nashville, Representative Ken Bragg from Sheridan, and Representative Brent Talley.

Request made to approve the minutes from the last meeting. Motion made to approve and it’s seconded.

Recap of reason for this meeting: Last general session, ASEA lobbied to find a way to reduce turnover amongst state employees. They worked on a bill, it passed, this taskforce was created, and we just finished a survey of 7,000 state employees that was about 70 pages long – and those results are in and the taskforce has their copies. Information is available to the public and is up on ASEA’s website and Facebook page.

So we’re trying to find out why people are leaving; some agencies it’s 16% or so, and we think that’s a big waste of resources and knowledge. If we can get that down and get them to stay longer, we’ll become more efficient.

This is a second of our public forums where we’re coming to your town to listen to your ideas, and we’ll open the mic to anyone who wants to talk.

First, John would like Kay Barnhill to say a few words about the work she’s been doing.

Kay Barnhill:

OPM is currently doing a paid plan study. One of the first things Gov. Hutchinson asked after he took office was for us to look at the pay plan because he saw that we had trouble. I suspect many will say that we have not way to go across our grade, and you need a promotion to get a pay increase. To give a little history, we had a much worse pay plan prior to 2009.

At that time we did a compressive pay-plan study, and classification study, where we looked at everyone’s grades and classes and job descriptions. We implemented that pay plan and 2009 was really unusual, because people were getting anywhere form 2-5% increases where a lot of the other state were laying off. It was like we delayed it a couple of years. From 2010 – 2012 employees didn’t receive any kind of increase. So even though we put a new pay plan in, we put our new and old employees at the same pay grade with no wage increase to distinguish between the two. It was great if you were new, but not if you were a long-term employee.

What we’re doing now is, we realize we’ve got some structural issues, we’re looking at how to improve. I’ve got my team, Vicki Mills our State Payroll Systems Manager and Herb Scott the deputy personnel administrator, and we’ve been working pretty much non-stop on this for the last two or three months because we’re trying to have a recommendation for the governor by May. So we can look prior to staring the next biannual budgeting process. The problem is, how to fund the correction to those problems, because every time state employees get a 1% increase, that’s $6.4 Million dollars in general revenue. We have about 28,000 active employees in the payroll system right now, and 1% might not seem like that much to us, but you take 1% times 28,000 and the actual cost is closer to $24 Million but I’m just talking about the general revenue cost, that’s what comes out of the state.

But we do know we have a problem, we are trying to address it, I don’t have the final answer to it yet – but do know you’ve got an administration that’s committed to reviewing this plan and who expects employees to produce and they’re willing to pay for us if we have a good plan. – End

John Bridges suggests everyone gets the dialog started, and asks if anyone would like to come up and speak.

Someone stood up and said thank you for the COLA, as it’s the first one we’ve had since the pay plan was implemented, and she really would like to see that continue, because those merit increases are so varied – and some of our long-term employees aren’t getting to a level where they can stay with us.

Kay answers: I will tell you that the merit increases are lump-sum payments, and one of the first corrections we’re looking at doing is making that merit increase added to your base salary. I think you’re going to see that recommendation.

John: Also, ASEA met with Lt. Governor Tim Griffin last week and that was the first thing he said as well, was returning merit back in to the salary. That’s ASEA’s members’ biggest complaint, so we hear that complaint loud and clear. Would anyone else like to speak? Staff members? Anyone?

Kay offers some statistics: Here are some things you might want to consider when you’re thinking things over. Right now in state government there’s about 28,000 employees and we’re running at about 14% turnover. One of the biggest costs in the personnel world is turnover costs, because you take a trained employee, one that can add to your organization, and not that new ones don’t – but you have to train people and I think DHS may have an even higher turnover rate than that. They may be running at about 20%, but I didn’t check that right before we came.

I don’t like how this pay plan makes you have to get a promotion to get a salary increase. Because you may be really happy in the job you’re in, you may be a technical expert on that job, but you need more money. So that forces you, even though that may not be what your career goal was, to take another job.

One of the things we’re trying to do with this pay plan is look at ways to reward people with technical competence within their field of expertise or within their grade to move them along. We have this guy we’re working with and we were talking with him about the pay plan and he was talking about things structurally and how pay plans should be set up. And ours is probably the opposite of the way it should be. In a real pay plan, what he recommended, and I don’t know if we’re going to go this way – I’m just telling you the things we’re learning so you can understand. So maybe you have a fan of a pay plan so your lower grades down have as wide of a range but your higher grades have a larger range because you want to keep people there.  Because people enter in the lower grades and then promote up to the higher grades, but once you get to the higher grades, you need to have somewhere to go as well.

Someone else speaks up: We’re seeing with our department that most of the turnover we see is in that 1-5 year range. The first 5 years; and I am confident that if we can keep our employees at least five years, our potential for keeping them for 10 years is much greater. Once they’re at 10 years, we could keep them probably to 30. At least that’s what my department is seeing. We have a lot of people that have been around for 25-30 years, a lot of people that have 40 years and there’s a lot of retirees this last couple of years.

It’s a good time to have people coming in and moving up in our department the last few years, but we’re still losing that entry-level or 1-5 year employee, and they need to see their pay move or they’ll start looking – and it’s also been my experience that once an employee starts looking, they’re done. So we’ve got to get them in and keep them in. And it would be great if we could reward them, if they continue their education and maybe even give them some incentives to go to our state schools to get that education.

Maybe we could give them discounted rates or something like that and keep them involved here in the state. The other thing is try and keep Arkansas graduates; we lose so many graduates to other states, and that’s our income tax base. When they graduate college, they’re the ones that are going to be earning money for future years and if they’re moving off to Dallas, or Oklahoma City, or to New Orleans, or Memphis or wherever – then we’re not getting that tax revenue. So, these are concerns that we’ve had, and we’ve been talking about these very things.

And one more thing, a 1% COLA, you mentioned the millions of dollars in general revenue increase, that’s not a one-time hit, that’s 6 ½ million dollars from here on out until those people cycle out and retire. So these are the problems we’re looking at. How can we pay for that? For 10-15 years? The best way I can think of is to keep our tax base growing here in Arkansas, keep our graduates in the state, and then do something for our own employees as far as keeping them incentivized to grown in their job and move up. And we have people in our department that only work seasonally, they only work 9 months a year, and even those people- we’ve got to do the proper things to keep them in place. – End.

Kay: I think David’s right about the entry-level pay plan and the inability, and we feel the entry rate needs to be increased because not only do we have the inability to keep employees, but we also have the inability to attract employees. If we want to get some of these young graduates, well we’re not attracting them with our entry-level salaries. The problem is, from a compensation standpoint, if you put all your money into the entry-level, then you’ve raised all your new employees pay but left your old employees out here – so it’s kind of a constant battle. Because we all know entry-level salaries need to increase and we want to attract new people, but do we do that on the backs of our older employees? These are some of the things we have to think about.

Someone asks: Can you talk about what the next steps are for the pay plan? What can we expect heading into the next general session?

Kay: What we did is we purchased some software that allowed us to go out and match all our state jobs. Because for one thing, it’s one thing to say your jobs are wrong but you need to have some market data to kind of back that up. We are wrapping up that particular process and had a team do the initial match, but I wasn’t comfortable with some of those matches because things were totally out of sync. So my management team has gone back and we’re going to upload all that data into this program we have, and then we’re going to start shooting out some pay plans. When we start shooting out those pay plans we start shooting out cost, so once we get that information, we’ll know a little bit more. My idea is to look at what is, I mean, certainly you’re going to look at what is your most optimistic and your best pay plan but I’m not sure we’ll be able to put that in, that might be too high of an expense – but we hope to move towards that goal.

What we will try to do is have a final pay plan recommendation that the governor has approved and would be willing to endorse for the next biannual budget cycle so when we go in an review, budget requests for agencies (as you know that process begins this July and pretty much lasts till the next July), so we will be doing that hopefully by this summer.

It’s still an ambitious agenda we’re working on now, it’s just not an easy task because we have so many diverse jobs – we’ve got those forestry jobs, etc., and quite frankly I don’t find a whole lot of information and salary data for parks or for forest rangers for those types of jobs. So we’re having to go to additional sources to collect that information, but I do feel like we’ve got some good information, and I think we know what is wrong. Some of our policies and let me just be honest – I’ve worked for the state for over 38 years and so I know a whole lot about the history and we haven’t changed some of our policies for 38 years.

So along with actually looking at a pay plan, it may be time to actually look at the policy that goes a long with that pay plan. So we have a team looking at that so it will be a little more of a comprehensive approach. The new pay plan we put in back in 2009 wasn’t all that bad but our policy which didn’t allow people to move across the grades has effectively killed it. So that’s kind of where we are but hopefully by May we’ll have more definitive information, but I am interested in hearing any issues you all have or any concerns – feel free to ask as many questions as you want.

Person asks: I’d like to know if there are any positions that are going to be cut out?

Kay: You mean classifications that will not continue? We’re not really doing a classification study at this point, I’m not going to say there won’t be any because if your agency management requests it.

The last time we had a lot of levels of jobs that were doing the same things so we did a whole lot of classifications, but we’re not looking at classifications right now, we’re just looking at what does that job pay out in the market. But I’m going to say that won’t happen if the agency comes in and says we don’t need these titles, then we might get rid of some.

In 2009 we did a tremendous amount of job audits, and when you determine classifications, a lot of it depends on the requirements for that particular job and your job description. At some point, how many levels of jobs can you have? What becomes the difference between 4 and 6 years of experience? So we did do a lot of collapsing of classifications because a lot of them weren’t being used and so we eliminated but that’s not really the purpose of what we’re doing right now. What we’re doing right now is truly to look at the compensation.

Person: I work for the OCSE And the legal secretaries got raises even to the point that the child support investigators did.

Kay: Yes, I understand that the legal secretaries are C113 and child support specialties are C113 so I understand that consideration.

When you evaluate jobs there’s different factors that go in; as I mentioned earlier, we look at the market rate, or the prevailing market rate for that position, then you look at the minimum qualifications of that position, then you also look at some other factors – accountability, those types of things. So all of these went into consideration back in 2009. We’re not looking at those right now, we’re just truly looking at compensation right now. We will if an agency asks us to, but that’s not the intent for right now.

Person: I was just wondering because of the people that were left out (inaudible).

Kay: Well I understand people’s frustrations and I think we all have some frustrations which the way pay works. But if Allen, who is the director of child support services, decides that we’ve done some damage there them we’ll certainly be happy to go back and look at that gain.

Person: Have there been some changes or are there going to be some changes to minimum wage next year (inaudible). I have some positions making $9 or so and they’ve already been talking about how they can go elsewhere; is there going to be a compensation increase for those positions because of the minimum wage increase?

Kay: The minimum wage increase is always an initial step in our pay plan and so as the minimum wage increases that will make a difference in the pay plan. Vicki, how many people did we determine? Inaudible. I think we determined it’s about a half a million dollars to raise current employees up to the minimum wage over the last year. What I have seen, and now you may disagree with me, but there’s very little difference between a grade C101 and a C109 and a C112; I think that’s a problem with the pay plan. There needs to be more of a spread, if you will. So yes I think we will be looking at that and I think the minimum wage will be our base because it has to be our base – we have to meet minim wage and we’ve got other considerations as well. You know we’ve got wage an hour considerations from the Federal Department of Labor, we’ve got to make sure we’re in compliance – so that definitely will be taken into consideration.

John Bridges: Anyone else?

Kay: Want to introduce Larry?

John Bridges: Larry Strickland, DHS, the late arrival. He was working hard and working late.

Person: Good evening, I work for DHS, in County Operations, and I’ve been there since 19_inaudible. And one of the programs that we initially worked with was Mainframes? (Inaudible), to determine eligibility. And as you know, (inaudible) the state can’t explain it because of our error rates. And since then we’ve had several programs like ASIS? Answer? and things of that nature. And a lot of money has been spent on those programs and right now we’re going through something called (inaudible) and for a long time Answer, when it was initiated, it was just not the answer. And a lot of people fresh out of college and coming to work for the state say (inaudible) was not worker friendly. They’re leaving. People who have been working for the state as long as I have are leaving. And you were asking for suggestions as far as monies to pay employees. Maybe some of the programs that are provided, that they’re paying all this money for, is not worker friendly to us.

Kay: I understand what you’re saying because I don’t think ASIS is worker friendly and I work with ASIS every day.

Person: So maybe instead of putting all the money to these programs that don’t work, give it to us. Just a suggestion.

Another person: Good evening, I’m (inaudible) with Arkansas State Police and I’m speaking on behalf of someone who doesn’t want to stand up. I’m with company C the CID division; been working for the state for 8 years. Our CID admin assistant has been working for the state for 26 years, C112, and one of the problems she has is she’s not even that comfortable on her current salary structure. Looking at the pay plan, you have entry, base, a mid point and career. So I’m wondering is our pay plan messed up as it is? Or do we just not have a vehicle for department heads to move along?

Kay: I think it’s a combination of both. At first when you have entry and base, the thought was that entry would be kind of like a probationary period before base. That never took effect. Then you’ve got the mid-point. The midpoint was where we actually matched market data to the job in 2009. But we took away the vehicle as you said, to get to mid-point, so you have these long-term employees who aren’t there yet. So we have to address that. Mid-point will probably always be the prevailing market rate. But Arkansas isn’t always at the prevailing market rate in any profession. And in state government generally it is not because of some of the benefits and holiday and leave etc. It’s just that people are saying well that’s not worth staying, so we’ve got to address that particular issue.

Now in the career level, I absolutely detest, I mean people think just because they get to 15 years they’re going to automatically go to that career level – and that is not the case, it’s misleading. So I think the structure of the pay plan desperately needs to change, and I think you’re going to see that, but again as I was talking about policy – it’s going to be about policy that will allow people to move across their grade so she can reach the level that is truly market value for her job.

Person: Those columns that you mentioned, it’s not a move from this to this to this one; there is a continuum. The way I explained it to our new employees and new supervisors is that the one thing to be aware of is that the entry point and the (inaudible) rate for that position. And to explain to their employees in this way – that those columns are benchmarks so just like with me, to see where everyone is on the pay scale and how their moving, but it has nothing to do with moving from one column to the next. But, as they’re getting raises, they’re moving in that continuum from entry point to the next. Since we didn’t have merit increases, we had merit bonus pay, we’re seeing a lot of disgruntled employees of course saying “hey I’m not moving.” And they’re right, they weren’t moving, you know they didn’t get a 1% COLA a couple of times but they really weren’t moving.

But one thing we’re looking at in this new pay plan is to look at a mechanism where maybe you can have step increases.

Kay: Well I like step increases, school districts like step increases, I mean you come in and know you’ve got this many years of experience and this is where you’re going to fall. That is one of the options we’re looking at, we’re not sure that’s actually going to work, we’ve got to consider what is feasible and what addresses our issues. A step pay plan or step increases may be one of the ways to do that.

Person: I was talking to a young man at school and he said I want to become a trooper, how much do they pay? I told him and he said well I could go out to the power plant and make more money.

Kay: And actually I have lately talked with some of the state police, Brass, who think that and were telling me exactly that point and they want to look at redoing your grid – and your grid is one of the better ones in state government. I’m just going to be honest with you, you know.

Person: I appreciate what y’all are doing and I just wanted to tell her side of the story.

Kay: I understand and that’s a perfect example of some of the issues we’ve got and are going up against is the fact that we don’t even have a 26-year employee at the market rate for her position. So that sort of sums up what some of the problems are.

John: Anyone else? Here we go – Bernard?

Bernard: I come from one of the highest turnover positions we have – those RCA’s RCT’s? I’m listening to those suggestions you’re giving but they don’t exist for us. There are no positions to upgrade to. Their pay is stagnant. And right now we’re spreading them thinner and thinner, and we’re jumping through hoops to try and keep them, but when we advertise this is what you make and this is what you do – we may get four applicants. And we’ve got 30 positions to fill. So now we’ve got more turnover because the issue is, the people we have are working harder, they’re having to do more, and no one’s coming in. But I don’t feel any of your suggestions seem to address that.

Kay: What do you think would? I mean I’m open. I’m open to ideas. I think first of all residential care assistants I think their base level pay needs to increase first. Your entry pay has got to increase. We just recently took a tour of the Conway Human Development Center and I was just amazed at some of the work that people were doing there and I think we have to raise the base pay, and accelerate the movement through the pay plan so you can compete with Taco Bell and KFC out here that are almost given the same at your age as you.

Person: The other thing we’re seeing is those minimum qualifications.

Kay: We can work on those all day long. That is something that is an easy fix. And if the qualifications are not working, we can certainly work on that. Doesn’t take a legislative session to go in a review the qualifications. We just need to have the request and the information and feedback from you that this is an issue. Now it has to go through your management. I mean I don’t go tell DHS management how they need to run their agency, I listen to what they request and try to respond to it.

Person:  I’m hearing solutions, but those positions are not the highest turnover.

Kay: You do have a lot of turnover I’ve done a lot of research with your positions and we’ve got some ideas I think of what we looked at for RCA’s because I understand but then again I don’t understand – I mean couldn’t even imagine getting paid for what you do, but I can understand from a conversation level the problems that you’re having. Again, you’re talking about a large volume class, are you in Monticello?

Person: Arkadelphia.

Kay: Ok, you may have different problems than the Jonesboro facility. One of the things I think we miss is maybe we need to look at geographic, we have a geographic differential possibility, but agencies aren’t using it. And it may be that in Arkadelphia you’re having more turnover than those in Jonesboro or Conway or Warren, so we need to decide do we need to accelerate you or do we need to do raises every six months or if you work with the most critically needy patients do you get a differential for that. Things along those lines are what I think we need to do.

But again, I can only do so much and we can recommend but that’s all we…that’s why we always listen to suggestions on what we can do differently. I hear you.

Another person: Just to answer that question that we have, we have a difference situation for those RCA’s. It is different in each city and the turnover is great in those positions and there are some avenues to that and sometimes people don’t use all those avenues available to them – but still, I think that would help somewhat but it’s not going to solve the problem because the salary is too low. We did get approved for us a 6-month interim for most of our RCA’s to RCT’s, and we should be using that. Because it is an avenue for us to move them up and then the turnover is so great so you can’t feed those other positions like RCS’s – you can’t feed them because you don’t have the people to do that. So I don’t feel it’s so much about what the minimum qualifications are, but more the pay to keep those people on long enough to get the extra experience to move up and there are some things that they have to decide to use. But we have to report to OPM every month when we move from those RCA’s to RCT’s and that’s a pretty easy process, am I right Kay?

Kay: All you’re doing is self-promoting, I mean it all goes to the personnel committee. I mean, inform the personnel committee.

Another person: Something else that might help, if you’re finding a lot of people applying aren’t qualified, (interrupted by someone else to correct him).

Kay: We may have the qualification too high at the higher levels.

Person: I was just saying if you’re having trouble finding qualified applications for RCA’s maybe there’s some sort of training…

Kay: DDS has some really specific training and it’s the number of hours they have to take and all that, which kind of works against them and they’ve been that way for a long time. And maybe it’s time we look at that and see if that’s the right kind of combination.

The other thing we’ve worked out is, I know overtime has been a major issue for a lot of workers, so we’re looking at paying out overtime when it’s earned vs banking it. Because you keep banking it but can never take it because you’re working all the time. So I know that’s one issue currently understudied right now.

John: Anyone else? Comments? Suggestions?

Ok, well if no one else has anything else to say, I’d like to thank everyone for coming. Continue to watch the ASEA newsletter, website and Facebook page for updates on the taskforce. We’ve already presented some information from the survey, and the survey is online. How many people here took that survey? (Hands go up)

John: Quite a few people. I tell you one big thing that stuck out to me on that survey was that in 70 pages of questions and answers, everyone said they would stay in their job if they could find a way to move up in salary – and quit moving around from this position to this one. I think that speaks volumes.

If you have any more suggestions or if you think of anything else, our website right on the front says “Do you have an idea?” Ok, email us, we listen to your ideas.

We appreciate you coming, and if there are not more questions, this meeting is adjourned.

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2 thoughts on “Arkansas Workforce Retention Taskforce Meeting and State Employee Public Forum Minutes

  1. I have been a state employee for almost 28 years. My salary is almost $8000 away from midpoint on the pay plan grid. I have others making the same salary with only 7 years of State Service. I think the pay plan wasn’t fully implemented causing this disaster. A simple solution would be to set years on the base, entry, midpoint, career, and Max and move all employees who aren’t at the proper salary to the proper salary. I love my job and would like to work 15 more years, but I’m so disgruntled by the salary discrimination that retiring has been heavy on my mind for the first time in my career. Please fix this so that I can continue to serve the people of this great state and I can continue to do the job that I love!

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