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State Employees Lobby For Collective Bargaining Rights

March 13, 2002
By: Kathryn Handley
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Lawrence Staten has been working at the St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center for five years. He makes $840 a month, and said he hasn't had a raise since July 1998.

"I make too much for state assistance, not enough to pay what I need to pay for," said Staten, who says he spends $300 a week on day care.

Staten and around 150 other state employees gathered at the Capitol Wednesday demanding that the state recognize the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) as their union; they want to begin the negotiations allowed under an executive order passed by Gov. Bob Holden last June. The controversial order caused legislators and lobbyists to question the impact of unions on the governor's decisions.

AFSCME members said they are concerned Holden's proposed $92 million cut to the Mental Health Department will mean fewer people to do more work for the same pay. The organization's agenda includes pay raises, lower insurance premiums and overtime pay.

Staten and many other AFSCME members said they are forced to work two jobs to have enough money to live on.

Erica Ellis said she works five days a week at Value City to supplement her state income. "I get four hours of sleep a day if that," she said. "Nobody should have to work two jobs to make ends meet."

Staten said he also worked at Value City but was unable to keep his job due to overtime hours at the psychiatric hospital. He said that employees are required to work overtime due to staff shortages but are only paid in compensation time.

"Out of seven days a week, I'm working four days, 16 hours [a day]," he said. "And eight hours I'm not getting paid for."

Staten said that staff shortages mean that he can't take off the compensation time he's earned.

AFSCME members said that rising insurance premiums have also put a strain on employees. Although state employees received a $10 bimonthly cost-of-living increase last year, they said that didn't even cover the insurance fee increase. Staten said that over the past year his monthly insurance premium rose from $90 to $274.

Some of the union members rallying at the Capitol were from Rep. Ted Farnen's district. Farnen, D-Mexico, said he agrees with AFSCME's concerns.

"I'm very sympathetic to their goals," he said. "I don't think they're wrong on pretty much anything."

But he said that they will be hard to address with this year's tight budget.

"I think a victory this year would be to accomplish some of those things," Farnen said. "Certainly there's no way we can do all of them."