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Committee Approves Pay Raises For State, UW Workers

Republicans Reject $15 Minimum Hourly Wage Proposal For State Employees

Wisconsin state capitol building
Wisconsin state capitol building. Bill Martens/WPR

A bipartisan legislative committee unanimously approved pay raises Wednesday for state and University of Wisconsin employees, but Republicans shot down Gov. Tony Evers’ request to raise the minimum wage for state workers to $15 an hour.

The Joint Committee on Employment Relations — made up of six Republicans and two Democrats — approved the 2 percent wage increases for the employees in both 2020 and 2021. Those raises have already been approved by the Legislature’s budget committee.

Democrats tried to pass the minimum wage bump by arguing it would prevent state workers from leaving for the private sector. State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said the government doesn’t pay some employees enough to survive.

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“I don’t think state employees should be forced to live in poverty,” Shilling said. “I don’t think they should have to rely on low-income food, housing and health care assistance.”

Patrick Wycoff is the executive director of AFSCME Council 32, a union that represents public employees. He told the committee when he started working as a laborer at Winnebago Mental Health Institute, a state-run facility, in 1998, he made $7.78 an hour and was on food stamps. When he left state services 19 years later, in 2017, he made $15 an hour.

“Even before I left state service, the facility had a terrible time enticing people to work for the state in these jobs,” he said. “The wage and benefit package was not competitive two and a half years ago when I left state service, and they continue to lag behind what’s needed today.”

A proposal to give state troopers retroactive 2 percent pay increases and an over 20 percent starting pay increase did not get a vote at the public hearing Wednesday.

Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association President Chad Thompson said higher pay would help recruitment, which is suffering.

“When I was a new trooper back in 1997, I know Vernon County had five troopers, and today they have one, kind of, who is currently deployed with the military,” Thompson said. “So really, Vernon County has no trooper.”

Members of the committee indicated the troopers aren’t totally out of luck. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told them to come back with a base pay increase in the single digits.

“I would be open to giving raises that are significantly higher than the rate of inflation, but not 20-plus percent,” Vos said.

Editor’s note: Wisconsin Public Radio is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.