Delaware state employees say they’ve shared enough sacrifice

WDEL | by Amy Cherry

Chanting “enough is enough,” dozens of state workers rallied Tuesday in Dover against what they labeled Governor John Carney’s so-called “shared sacrifice” budget proposal, which seeks to close a $385 million budget gap through both tax hikes and program cuts.

Keisha Daniels has worked as a state social worker for more than a decade; she has a Master’s degree, but makes $33,000 a year and can’t pay her bills.

“The 1 percent pay raise that they did give us, at the same time, they increased our health care expenses, which is, in effect, as if we didn’t actually get a pay raise,” she said.

She added those in the private sector just don’t get it.

“They think that for some reason, somehow, we are getting these wonderful benefits, earning these great salaries. I had people that said to me, ‘Oh but you work for the state.’ And then I tell them how much I make. I tell them how long it’s been since I’ve gotten a raise.”

Christine Kirkland, who works at the Delaware Psychiatric Center, said she and her colleagues work countless hours to ensure that patients, clients, and prisoners are fed, safe and secure.

“Public service workers–we are the engine that makes this ship float…it’s just so disheartening how legislative bodies view us as an anchor, as a weight, as a hindrance,” she said. “I think the people in Legislative Hall forget that, they too, are public service workers.”

Daniels loves her job, but said she may not be able to stay with the state much longer, if the budget that passes on June 30 includes hikes in health care costs.

“That’s where we are–as state workers–unable to survive. Many of us are deciding to leave because we have no choice….if they decide to balance the budget on our backs once again, I’m sure a lot of state workers won’t be able to do their jobs.”

“We need to talk about a shared sacrifices at the hospitals; we need to talk about metric-based pricing; we need to talk about how we can control the costs of what it costs us to go to the hospital, what it costs to go to the doctors,” said Mike Begatto, Executive Director of ASCME Council 81.

A handful of legislators stood alongside state employees to fight their fight.

“We have not only taken away money from you people, we have not only disrespected what you’ve done…we’ve have not only allowed our governor, our own self-legislative body to take away what you’ve earned. How can we justify that we are interested in the people of the State of Delaware when we say that the..public servants…that we don’t respect them enough to even give them a standard of living that gets them above the poverty level in some cases?” asked Newark-area State Rep. John Kowalko.

Kowalko pointed to costly innovation grants to corporations as a part of the problem.

“That’s giving away $80 to $100 millions to corporate welfare, why they would do that and turn their backs on people that are hard-working people? “This is not the way it works. Any business that did this would have a strike on their hands in a heartbeat,” said Kowalko.

Begatto said they have widespread support among legislators despite a small showing. The rally coincided as Delaware House and Senate leadership had lunch with Carney at Wooburn and Joint Finance committee hearings were ongoing.

Middletown-area Republican State Rep. Kevin Hensley said state employees need to make livable wages.

“If the salaries aren’t market rate, we need to look at the salaries,” said Hensley. “You can have the best health care in the world but if you can’t afford to put food on the table what’s the point of having the best health care.”

State Senator Bryan Townsend acknowledged the tough budget situation, but thanked state workers for all they do and said he’s sad and shocked to see the way public employees are treated.

“The services you provide are so critical to our state–we all know that we don’t pay you in a way that reflects the value you bring to our community,” he said. “I have yet to see a public employee ask for something unreasonable as you try to make sure you can continue your work for our state while also providing for your families.”

“Year after year…the public service worker has to carry the burden of the state deficit when in no way did we create any part of that deficit,” said Kirkland to applause.

Daniels is insulted by the notion that this budget proposal has, as Carney called it, “a shared sacrifice with something for everyone not to like.”

“I would really like for him to understand, 10 years without a raise, realistically in the United States of America…that’s not a shared sacrifice, that is beyond a sacrifice.”

WDEL has reached out to Gov. Carney for comment.

Begatto said state workers are too familiar with the term shared sacrifice.

“We’ve gotten minimal increase…we’ve been successful in getting pay raises, but they’ve been taken away when we’ve had to share increased costs in health care, increased co-pays…enough is enough, we just can’t take anymore,” he said.

He wants the ability to implement collective bargaining for state employees in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees; they also want representation on the Government Efficiency and Accountability Review Board.

“We’re willing to take shared sacrifices…if you let us come to the table and be a part of it and not have it forced at us…we can come up with some other things that might not cost money, but that would give us some relief and some satisfaction,” said Begatto.

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