State employees protest Carney budget

Delaware State News | by Matt Bittle

DOVER — “Enough is enough!”

That was the rallying cry for approximately 40 state government employees at a news conference Tuesday to protest what they claim is poor treatment by the state.

Gov. John Carney has called for raising their health care costs, possibly with higher premiums or deductibles. As a result, the recipients of those proposed changes are complaining.

State government employees say they’re struggling to pay their bills and feeling “disrespected” by lawmakers and the governor.

“During my time with the Division of Social Services I’ve come to learn unfortunately that I am one of those individuals who needs assistance. I need assistance because we don’t simply earn enough wages to be able to sustain ourselves,” insisted Keisha Daniels, a social worker.

“Every year, SSI, Social Security, receives a cost of living increase. Where is our cost of living increase?”

The state government employs about 36,000 full-time workers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median salary for Delaware state employees is $45,020. By comparison, the median salary for a Delaware resident employed in the private sector is $37,960.

The state government also covers about 90 percent of employee health care costs.

According to the American Federation of State County & Municipal Employee Council 81, more than 3,000 employees are eligible for government benefits.

A spokesman for Gov. Carney in an email echoed themes of “shared sacrifice,” a term repeatedly used by the governor over the past three months.

“We agree state workers deserve more,” Jon Starkey said in an email. “That said, the people of Delaware — including thousands of state workers — understand that we have a structural budget problem that can no longer be ignored.

“The governor has held more than a dozen town halls on the budget with two dozen legislators over the past three months. Gov. Carney is committed to addressing our budget problem head on this year so we can get back to making investments that will move our state forward.”

However, state government employees on Tuesday said they were tired of waiting.

“Let us come to the table and tell you what it is that has to be done in the facilities where we work. We’re there every day,” said Mike Begatto, executive director of AFSCME Council 81. “We see the efficiencies, we see where there are deficiencies.”

The government employees challenged policy-makers to do the work they do at the high salaries they earn.

“Public service workers get up out of their beds at wee hours of the morning to make sure roads are clear and roads are safe. Public service workers take care of the ill who can’t take care of themselves,” said Christine Kirkland, a nursing assistant at the Delaware Psychiatric Center. “Public service workers take care of the most indigent of our population who need someone to take care of them.

“Public service workers cut through, most times, a lot of the bureaucracy to help people in the community to get their issues resolved. But yet when I stand here and I hear, it’s just so disheartening how legislative bodies view us as an anchor, as a weight, as a hindrance.”

State employees received four pay raises under former Gov. Jack Markell from fiscal years 2009 to 2017: 2 percent in 2012, 1 percent in 2013, $500 in 2015 and the greater of 1.5 percent or $750 in 2017.

In 2010, employees had their salaries reduced by 2.5 percent due to a state budget shortfall. But the cut was restored the next year.

Gov. Carney’s budget proposal does not include a pay increase.

Several lawmakers were present at Tuesday’s rally and they pledged to support government employes.

“Any business that did this would have a strike on their hands in a heartbeat,” Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, said.

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