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Battle for better pay

Panhandle rallies to focus on locality pay for state employees

Panhandle rallies to focus on locality pay for state employees

July 21, 2005|by CANDICE BOSLEY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

The mechanic was not alone.

Like many other state employees, including teachers, he found he could make more money by driving across the state line to work. He was making $10 an hour as a trained mechanic for the Division of Highways in Berkeley County, but took a job as a janitor with the Loudoun County (Va.) school system that paid $17 an hour, according to state Sen. John Unger.

Dozens of teachers also are taking jobs across state lines because of higher salaries in Virginia and Maryland, school officials have said.

To demonstrate for Gov. Joe Manchin the need for locality pay - which involves increasing the salaries for state employees who work in the Eastern Panhandle, where the cost of living is higher - Unger is organizing two rallies next week.

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The first will be July 27 from 7 to 9 p.m. at T.A. Lowery Elementary School in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va.

The second rally will be July 28 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Orchard View Intermediate School on Delmar Orchard Road west of Martinsburg.

Anybody is welcome, said Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, who is organizing the rallies with Dels. Bob Tabb, Locke Wysong and John Doyle, all D-Jefferson.

As chairman of the Senate's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Unger helped recently to acquire locality pay for Division of Highways workers in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

Existing employees received a 15 percent increase in pay, while new hires will receive a 25 percent increase, Unger said.

The locality pay for DOH workers took effect July 1.

Unger said he received questions from people wondering why locality pay only was acquired for DOH employees.

"That's where I could start, but it was never my intention to stop," he said.

Some state employees asked Unger about filing grievances with the state, but he encouraged them to start petition drives instead, which he said are a more positive way to garner attention.

Unger said he hopes the rallies snag the attention of the governor, so the issue of locality pay will be one of the main issues discussed during a special legislative session planned for September.

"Too long we've been put on the back burner," Unger said.

After a lengthy meeting Tuesday with Brian Kastick, director of public policy and federal affairs for the governor's office, Unger said he is optimistic about the chance of locality pay being enacted.

"The governor's office is interested in this and they are considering the proposal," said Unger. "I can't imagine another time (to pursue this). We do have the governor's ear and it's time for us to mobilize."

Some states, the federal government, certain private companies and the military already offer locality pay for employees who live in areas - like the Eastern Panhandle - where the cost of living is higher.

Teachers who have quit their jobs in Berkeley County almost always say during an exit interview that they left because they were unhappy with their salary, rather than displeased with their school, workload or working conditions, school officials have said.

"Salary is the No. 1 reason that they leave," Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon has said.

Every year, an estimated 75 teachers leave the county, not including those who retire.

Previously the Berkeley County Board of Education compiled statistics related to teachers leaving for jobs elsewhere. On average, the teachers who left possessed 13 years of experience, and were replaced, on average, with teachers who had two years of experience, Arvon said.

Unger said the mechanic who left for a janitor's job would have rather stayed. Others agree, Unger said.

"They're saying to me, it's not about making $10,000 to $20,000 more, it's about being able to survive living here," Unger said. "They would love to stay. They love West Virginia. They don't want to leave their communities."

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