07/22/05 — Workers ask for cost-of-living raise from state

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Workers ask for cost-of-living raise from state

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 22, 2005 1:45 PM

State employees are banding together to send legislators a clear message that a cost-of-living raise is long overdue.

Nearly 100 state employees braved the heat in downtown Goldsboro Thursday to attend a noontime rally. The gathering was organized by the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) as an effort to persuade lawmakers to stick with the proposed $1,086 pay raise for most state employees.

Dana Cope of Raleigh, executive director of SEANC, delivered a brief charge to the gathering.

"Now is the time that we have to raise our voices locally," he said. "If we don't do this, no one else is going to."

Cope said as legislators hammer out a compromise to the state budget, it is vital to be part of the process.

"If you're not at the table, you're on the menu," he said. "We're on the menu. Sen. Kerr is at the table."

He encouraged the group to call members of the legislature with its concerns and spread the word for others to do the same.

Chuck Stone, director of North Carolinians for Affordable Health Care and a member of SEANC, said last year was the first time in four years that state employees had a cost of living raise. It was a flat amount of $1,000.

"This year, we're looking for a compromise at $1,086 for every employee," he said.

Cope said when budget negotiations began this year, the Senate proposed a raise for state workers of only 2 percent or $500, whichever is greater. The House converted its initial proposal to a flat amount of $1,086, which could benefit the vast majority of workers.

Recently, though, there have been rumblings that teachers would receive a pay raise and state workers would receive less than expected, Cope said.

"Our friends in the Legislature are telling us that House and Senate leaders cannot come to an agreement on a pay raise for state employees," he said. "From what we're hearing, the Senate and governor appear to be ganging up on the House to try and reduce the pay raise proposal.

"If that's so, it's unacceptable, particularly since they're spending $1 billion more in this budget, much of it on pork-barrel special projects and big business, at the expense of all of North Carolina's working families."

Sherry Melton, communications director for SEANC, said there are 55,000 state workers in North Carolina, more than 3,000 of them in Wayne County.

Thursday's rally was the second of three organized in the state this week. While the heat might have affected the turnout, Ms. Melton said it wouldn't change the significance of the effort.

"The important thing is that the people that come get the message, get the call to action and carry it back to their workplace, their family, their community," she said. "Act on that and let these lawmakers know that we mean business this year."

Local workers echoed the concerns of state union leaders.

"We need a good raise," said Mary Moore, who has been employed at Cherry Hospital for three years.

Co-worker Patricia Holmes has worked there 11 years.

"I have not in my career had a decent raise," she said.

Ms. Moore said they had chosen to attend the rally as a show of solidarity.

"We're just coming out, banding together to present our support," she said. "We stand and fall together."