published Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

556 Tennessee state workers denied pay raises

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Disciplinary offenses for state employees

Here are some examples of acts that may warrant disciplinary action against state employees:*

  • Insubordination
  • Inefficiency, incompetency or negligence in performances of duties
  • Conduct unbecoming an employee in state service or gross misconduct
  • Careless, negligent, or improper use of state property or equipment; failure to obtain or maintain a current license or certificate or other qualification required for employment
  • Failure to maintain "satisfactory and harmonious" working relationships with the public and fellow employees
  • Habitually late

Source: Rules of Tennessee Department of Human Resources

NASHVILLE -- Figures show 556 state workers, or 1.3 percent of Tennessee government's work force, were denied across-the-board pay increases July 1 after Gov. Bill Haslam changed existing policy and blocked raises for those disciplined in the past year.

Responding to an information request from the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the state Human Resources Department said the workers were among 771 employees denied the 1.6 percent cost of living increase, the first rise in pay after three years.

Another 163 workers didn't get a raise because of poor performance evaluations. Human Resources figures show 52 more workers didn't see the cost-of-living adjustment after receiving a low evaluation and also being the recipient of disciplinary action.

Denying pay increases because of poor performance evaluations has long been a provision of the state's annual appropriations act, passed by the General Assembly.

But using disciplinary infractions as justification for not giving a raise was a new twist, drawing protests last month from Tennessee State Employees Association Executive Director Robert O'Connell, who questioned its legality. O'Connell also denounced the move as "mean spirited" because the workers already had been punished once.

Some employees would have fought disciplinary charges, especially on minor matters, had they known they would later be punished again by withholding additional pay, O'Connell said Monday.

"There were hundreds of people unaware at the time this came down there was any threat to their pay raises," O'Connell said. "It was unfair and we think unwise and possibly illegal."

The governor, however, has defended it, saying raises are for employees "doing a good job."

O'Connell argued many of those who were refused pay increases because of disciplinary issues had received positive performance evaluations.

He noted Haslam has been quoted saying only about 100 people were affected. There was no explanation for the discrepancy.

The new policy affected employees who had been suspended, demoted or received two warning write ups from supervisors. Employees can be punished for infractions including insubordination, being late and failure to maintain "satisfactory and harmonious" working relationships with the public and fellow employees.

TSEA's government affairs director, Sarah Adair, said a Department of Children's Services employee was disciplined because of how she handled a situation in which she was directed to drive to pick up a single young child for court. Instead, Adair said, she found two were supposed to go.

Having arrived in a vehicle with just one children's car seat, Adair said, the worker faced a no-win situation. She could leave one child behind or call someone to bring an additional car seat. But that could have made her late for court and landed her in trouble with the judge, Adair said. Instead, the woman chose a third option: Transporting the second child in the back seat without a children's car seat. She wound up getting disciplined for it, the TSEA lobbyist said.

Earlier in the day, O'Connell met with Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter and other officials. O'Connell said it wasn't to try to get Haslam to reverse the decision, made unanimously by his Cabinet.

Rather, O'Connell said, it was to try to get the department to consider allowing workers with positive performance evaluations who stayed out of trouble for six to nine months to later qualify for the 1.6 percent increase.

Departmental spokesman John S. McManus confirmed the department asked O'Connell to submit the proposal in writing.

Tennessee general government has an estimated 42,000 workers. The 771 denied pay raises represent 1.83 percent of the work force.

Figures show the state Department of Correction had 232 people denied pay raises. The bulk of those -- 213 -- lost out on the increases strictly because of disciplinary issues. Six were denied the increases because of low performance evaluations. Eleven were denied because of lower evaluations and disciplinary issues.

One employee lost out on a pay raise because of both a demotion and a low performance evaluation, while another did not get a raise because of a demotion.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
NoMyth said...

Nearly all state government work should be outsourced through competitive bids to private companies, and re-bid annually.

August 2, 2011 at 3:14 a.m.
TheDude said...

@NoMyth. Oh sure, it's great to always keep people guessing whether they will have a job at the end of the year. Also fun when they loose their job because somebody's brother said they'd do it for less. Constant chaos is a great way to build a stronger society. Why should the state be giving money to fat-cat executives who's goal is to pay their employees as little as possible (or hire illegal immigrants) so that the executive can buy a new boat? Personally, I'd rather my tax money to go to the service provided, even if I am not the beneficiary of said service. I just want to know that the service is done at the best price.

August 2, 2011 at 12:59 p.m.
NoMyth said...

@TheDude, if the state bid out the services provided by state workers, the taxpayers would pay 50% or less for the same or better services by a private company. The amount of dysfunction and waste in state (and county) government is a crime against humanity. Those tax dollars could be spent on much more important things than giving away jobs to lazy, unproductive workers.

August 2, 2011 at 11:02 p.m.
TheDude said...

@NoMyth, Fortunately, there is no waste or laziness in private sector jobs, right? ( Sure there is wasteful spending in the government, but why would you choose to believe it's the state employees fault? Why not assume that all people are the same and we all just want to do a good job wherever we are. "Giving away jobs to lazy, unproductive workers." That's just mean, NoMyth. How about compassion for REAL HUMANS. These are not just some statistic on a chart somewhere. Real people with families they want to feed. They applied for a job and got it! Yea for them! Better than being on unemployment, right? I choose to believe they are providing a valuable service to someone. Maybe you don't need that service, but somebody does. And that person is deeply grateful.

August 3, 2011 at 12:01 p.m.
HCE said...

When the state Outsources my husbands job, I guess my family will be living and dining with you. since you seem to have a surplus of support to go around for all the people that will be unemployed. Great Suggestion...

August 3, 2011 at 3:43 p.m.
NoMyth said...

@TheDude and both seem to completely miss the point....government bureaucracy is a joke...the only way to eliminate it is to competitively bid the work, so the winning bidder has an incentive to work efficiently. Efficiency increases economic productivity....and, overall, more people will have jobs. You are arguing in favor of what Greece has done...give 50% of jobs to civil servants that do nothing, and in the end that has lead to the downfall of their nation.

August 5, 2011 at 7:21 p.m.
wadehinkle said...

I can understand the frustration on not receiving pay raises, but it they are not the only people who have not gotten raises. In fact I know people who have been in their positions for over 10 plus years but have not gotten a raise in the last two or three years, not that they are not doing a good job, but this recession has hurt everyone.

Wade D Hinkle Founder

October 19, 2011 at 9:21 p.m.
dl said...

NoMyth - Most state government work has been scaled back to the point that outsourcing would have little to no effect. If there are agencies that you still see as wasteful please let us know. A lot is bid on and outsourced already as you likely know. For a State with no income tax I think TN is doing a great job. My kids went to College virtually free, my roads are great, and if I need a state resource I usually get a knowledgeable, respectful person. Better than the private sector in most cases.

October 19, 2011 at 9:43 p.m.
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