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Mass. Senate unveils new pay structure, raises for staffers

The Massachusetts Senate announced Wednesday that it is implementing a new pay structure for its staff.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Amid a growing chorus of criticism that Massachusetts Senate staff are paid unequally, chamber leaders announced Wednesday that they are implementing one-time 10 percent raises for their staff, a $50,000 salary floor, and a new pay structure — news that comes about eight months after a salary study commissioned by the Senate found fault with the chamber’s hiring and pay practices.

The new system, laid out for senators and staff by the chamber’s Personnel and Administration committee, results in an average 15 percent raise for 260 Senate staff. The total cost has not yet been finalized, according to a spokeswoman for Senate President Karen E. Spilka.

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“I became Senate president and realized that the Senate needed to really modernize, professionalize, and reform its salary structure, because technically there really was not much of a structure,” Spilka said Wednesday.

The new “Senate 3C plan,” which senators said was four years in the making, involved recommendations and input from members of the Senate and their staff, as well as a report that was circulated last year. It sets the pay floor at $50,138, which is about $5,000 more than the floor recently set for Congressional staff.

The revamped structure follows some recommendations made in the 144-page report, which came out of a study conducted by the National Conference of State Legislaturesand obtained by the Globe with the aim of reviewing job responsibilities and the compensation. Its conclusions were completed in November 2021 and circulated to Senate offices in January.

The recommendations from the report make up the bulk of the new pay structure, Personnel and Administration committee vice chair Senator Brendan P. Crighton said.

Following the suggestions of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the new pay system, which goes into effect before the end of this fiscal year, requires that all jobs be analyzed, classified, and assigned a pay grade with a salary range.

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The structure aligns with the way the executive and judiciary branches classify and pay their employees, committee chair Senator Michael F. Rush said.

“Determining job classification and fitting existing staff into this new structure has probably been the biggest piece of the process so far,” Rush said. “It’s taken hundreds and hundreds of personnel hours.”

Senate staff pay has become a central tenet of a unionization effort among staff, who announced their intent to form a union in the spring. The union has not been recognized by Spilka, who says she has asked Senate Counsel to carefully review the union’s request. While Massachusetts has a long pro-labor tradition, state law carves out legislative staff from the definition of public employees who may collectively bargain.

In a statement Wednesday, the group of staff members who want to form a union said that while the wage increases will have “a tremendous impact” on their lives, they are still pushing for a seat at the table that will outlast the “changing tides and power structure” of Senate leadership through the years.

“While chronically low wages are a concern in our workforce, we also signed union cards to advance many sorely needed solutions to decades-old systemic issues,” the group of staff members wrote in a statement.

They laid out demands left untouched by the new pay structure, including protections against harassment, annual cost of living increases, and a human resources department independent of the Senate president’s office.

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Other recommendations made by the National Conference of State Legislatures include a market survey, formal performance evaluations, merit-based raises, and stipends for staff who work for members in Senate leadership, though none of those items are part of the immediate changes.

Staff members were informed about the changes to their pay structure Wednesday afternoon during a webinar presentation, during which they could not turn their cameras on or use the audio function. The Senate president’s chief of staff sent an e-mail Saturday morning inviting staff members to the virtual event.

The Senate’s pay structure was first revamped in 2018 after a new state law meant to ensure more fair and equal workplaces was enacted. Instead of giving each senator a pot of money to spend on compensation and other costs, the Senate president’s office must now approve each hire and raise.

The new law was meant to create more uniformity across offices and address Spilka’s goal of ensuring that staff members of all genders are paid equally for their work.

“You could have one chief of staff making a very low salary, and a chief of staff in another office making a totally different salary,” Rush, a West Roxbury Democrat said.

In 2019, the chamber raised Senate staff salaries to a floor of $43,000. In 2021, the floor got bumped to $45,580.

The equal pay law required staff to submit resumes and job descriptions, which were examined to make sure people with similar jobs were paid comparably.

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But according to the National Conference on State Legislatures report, which only studied the Senate, the pay process was not clear and accessible to most Senate employees. Some staff members interviewed stated that the current policy is “that there is none,” and that raises require “the Senate president’s permission,” a process they said was both “antiquated and subject to concerns about preferential treatment.”

After Globe inquires about the report earlier this year, the Senate announced that it had hired a consultant to serve as the chamber’s newly created “compensation specialist.” The consultant worked closely with senators on creating the new pay structure, Crighton said.


Samantha J. Gross can be reached at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.