Governor Jan Brewer begins her job of selling her budget plan to lawmakers this week.
About 29,000 of the state's estimated 38,000 workers are in covered positions, meaning they have appeal rights in cases of discipline or firing. Brewer wants to scrap that, creating at at-will system like the private sector. Given some legal questions about forcing the issue on existing employees, the governor is trying something different: She is offering a 5 percent pay hike -- but only to those who give up merit protections. She called the plan an incentive. "If they believe that the benefits are better staying in the merit system," she said, "they've got that choice. They can decide.
The governor said she wanted to hike the pay of state workers who have not seen a raise in five years.
"And as the discussion continued and continued," she said, "and knowing we would like to go in there and do some kind of personnel reform, that, why not have that little incentive here to maybe show them that if they chose to move from underneath a covered position that, you know, we are at liberty to do a lot of good things for them."
But Sheri Van Horsen, President of Local 3111 of the American Federation of State, Local and Municipal Employees, said she's not convinced that the carrot the governor is dangling is going to get the result she wants.
"I think she's going to get a reaction from state employees that she may not expect," said Van Horsen. "We've been going inside the agencies about three times a week and we've been getting them ready for this. And the response we get is they understand their merit system protections and their covered status. And they don't want to give it up."
Van Horsen said employees will see the governor's offer as an insult given not only the lack of any pay hike in five years but the fact that lawmakers forced workers to take unpaid time off, imposed a hiring free and then took away their PIP -- performance incentive pay.
"I think they're going to be kind of incensed with this," said Van Horsen. "Oh, you know, I'm the governor. And I really appreciate how hard you work. Go uncovered and I'll give you a raise. Yeah. I wouldn't want to be her. Unh huh."
But Brewer thinks the offer will be too hard for workers to refuse.
"It's been a long time since state employees had a pay raise," Brewer said. "And in all the time their insurance has been going up, inflation has hit upon us. And I just thought it was the right thing to do."
None of this affects university faculty and staff. Brewer proposes providing the schools with a bit more money than this year, but leaving it up to the Board of Regents to decide who, if anyone, should get a raise.