As Missouri tries to raise wages for state workers, some are crossing the river to Illinois for higher wages | Politics
JEFFERSON CITY — At least 200 Missouri residents cross the Mississippi River every day to work at Illinois government facilities where they can earn much higher pay doing almost the exact same job.
As Republican Gov. Mike Parson urges the legislature to raise historic low wages for Missouri government workers, interviews with Illinois prison workers, child welfare investigators and others suggest that that still wouldn’t be enough to make the Show-Me State competitive with land. of Lincoln.
Among those who found higher pay in Illinois was Scott Lankford, who began his career with the Missouri Department of Human Services as a case manager.
In an interview with the Post-Dispatch, Lankford, 43, said he was making about $35,000 a year in his position when he applied for a clerical job with the Illinois Department of Human Services. Even though he demoted, the desk job still paid more than he earned in Missouri.
People also read…
“I was coming for more pay and for less work than I was doing,” Lankford said. “It was like a cakewalk compared to the other job I was doing as a manager.”
In addition, he said he can count on regular salary increases in Illinois based on the union contract.
“I know it’s a big deal (in Missouri),” Lankford said. “I know here that I’m going to get a raise.”
Lankford, who has since moved to Collinsville with her husband, has also seen an increase in the number of Missourians working in Illinois state government.
“It has grown steadily over the years,” Lankford said. “We started with eight of us and it grew to 16 to 20.”
Missouri’s top officials are well aware of the pay disparity.
In 2016, former Governor Jay Nixon released a study that found base pay for nearly 38,000 state employees was the lowest in the nation and more than 10% below what is considered competitive in the job market.
This same study found that the worker in the average state of Missouri earns $39,682, compared to Illinois, where the average salary of $65,343 was the third highest in the nation (behind Iowa and California). ) at the time.
Robert Knodell, acting director of the Missouri Department of Human Services, attributed the higher pay rates in Illinois to the strong union representation of government employees in the state.
Knodell, who was Parson’s deputy chief of staff before taking over the sprawling agency, oversees more than 6,500 workers who earn an average of $39,235 a year.
“We believe this compensation plan will make us more competitive,” Knodell told The Post-Dispatch in a recent interview.
Unlike Missouri, unions such as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees have a strong presence in the workings of the Illinois government.
In 2019, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, a Democrat, signed an agreement with AFSCME Council 31 that gave 40,000 state employees 11.5% raises over four years.
It was the first new pact with the union since 2015, when Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, was in office.
Like Rauner, Parson has allowed all union contracts to expire and has not reopened talks as lawsuits by Missouri public sector unions wind their way through the court system.
Parson’s call for a 5.5% pay rise remains under discussion in the Republican-controlled House, where some members are balking, saying the legislature should give residents tax relief before raising people’s salaries that provide essential government services.
Meanwhile, workers continue to cross the river to take advantage of higher wages.
Hursel King, 42, was a correctional officer in Missouri until 2011, when he was hired for a similar position at Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Illinois.
King, who is treasurer of AFSCME Local 1175, left a job in Missouri earning about $26,000 a year to take the same position in Illinois, earning about $45,000. He now earns around $70,000 overseeing a shift of 10-15 officers.
Salary, he said, makes him a “decisive factor” in continuing to travel the 45 miles from southern Illinois to his home in Ste. Genevieve.
When asked why there was such a disparity between states, King replied, “Obviously the union makes a big difference.”
King isn’t the only one making the trip.
“There are a few that I worked with in Bonne Terre and Farmington who came to Menard,” King said.
Larry Brown, 69, spent more than 22 years driving from Perryville to Menard Correctional Center across the river in Chester.
Brown, who is president of the AFSCME Council 31 Pensioners’ Association, served as supply supervisor for the prison commissioner, ordering items for inmates to purchase, ranging from snacks to shoes.
He was hired at the prison at the same time as he married a woman from Missouri. Rather than move to Illinois, he opted to make the 15 mile drive to Chester.
At one point, Brown said his sister, who was a parole officer in Missouri, urged him to apply for a job in Missouri.
“She brought an application for me to Missouri for a supply supervisor, which would be a big promotion for me in Illinois. She said fill it in, I think I can help you get that job. .
Brown said he wrote his name and address on the application before returning it to see the salary.
“I turned it over and just tore it up. I said, ‘Sister, to get a promotion in Missouri, I have to take a $12,000 pay cut.’ I said I couldn’t do this.