While many workers in the public and private sectors face pay cuts and the threat of layoffs, state Auditor Suzanne M. Bump is handing out raises of as much as 16 percent to her staff, retroactive to June 4.
The increases could spark outrage at a time when the state is struggling to fund basic services for the elderly and disabled and when thousands of frontline social services workers have gone five years without a pay increase.
But Bump said a study she commissioned found that her employees earn less on average than workers in comparable positions in government and private offices. The raises will cost $517,186 out of her office’s existing budget, she said.
Ninety eight of the 235 employees in Bump’s office, which is charged with rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse, will get raises two years after the entire staff received a 5 percent pay hike. None of her staff is unionized or bound by civil service rules, meaning she can grant increases at her discretion.
“When we’re losing employees to other state agencies, never mind the private sector, it means I have to act, and I have to do what’s necessary to attract and retain the workforce that’s required to do this job,” said Bump, a Democrat who took office in January 2011.
The raises far exceed what most private and public workers are receiving in the midst of a shaky economic recovery, said Gary N. Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester.
“That is an extraordinary salary increase, and it’s not without political problems,” he said. “It’s very rare for workers to get more than 3 percent a year.”
Chaison said it was not fair to compare, as Bump did, public sector salaries with private sector salaries because public workers have traditionally received better benefits and more job security than workers in private settings.
“It’s largely discussing apples and oranges,” he said. “But when you’re asking for a salary increase, even if you’re an apple, you often compare yourself to an orange.”
Other statewide officers have given far smaller increases to their staff. Secretary of State William F. Galvin gave his employees a 3 percent raise at the end of 2011, according to his spokesman, Brian McNiff. State Treasurer Steven Grossman gave his nonunion workers a 3 percent raise in January and his union workers are scheduled to receive a contractually mandated 3 percent raise on Saturday, according to his spokesman, Jon Carlisle.
Governor Deval Patrick gave his nonunion managers a 3 percent raise in June 2011, when union workers received their own 3 percent increase, according to a spokeswoman, Alex Zaroulis. Before that, managers had not gotten a pay increase since 2008, and many were forced to take furloughs in 2009 and 2010.
Across state government, union employees and managers have also had to pay higher copayments and deductibles for their health insurance.
In Bump’s office, 28 audit supervisors will get raises of 15.7 percent, or$9,453, to an average of $66,917 a year. Twenty-four senior auditors will get raises of 7.6 percent, or $3,782, to an average of $53,416 a year. And 46 entry-level field auditors will get raises of 7.6 percent, or $3,515, to an average of $49,892 a year.
In most cases, Bump said, the raises will make her employees’ salaries equal to the average pay in similar positions in the private and public sectors, as determined by Lawrence Associates, a consulting firm in Wellesley, which conducted a $29,430 compensation study for the auditor’s office.
Employees in the auditor’s office last received a raise in July 2010, when Bump’s predecessor, A. Joseph DeNucci, granted the entire staff the 5 percent increase just prior to his retirement. That raise, in the midst of an economic downturn, prompted widespread criticism from Republicans and some Democrats.
But Bump, who was then a candidate endorsed by DeNucci, defended the increase.
She said the latest raises are part of an effort to professionalize an operation hampered by low morale and inefficiency. In May 2011, soon after taking office, she fired 27 employees and demoted 12 after an outside review found that the office was falling short of its own professional standards, with improperly trained and inadequately educated staff who failed to warn other agencies of fraud risk.
Bump’s raises come as state lawmakers delivered a final budget to the governor that grants the first raise in five years to 31,500 workers who assist people with disabilities and who earn less than $40,000 a year. They will get a 1.5 to 2 percent increase in pay.
Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.