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Bill would return state workers’ pay to every other week

By M.J. Ellington · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — In April, most state workers will get only one paycheck because a legislative change altered the schedule of state paydays from every other week to semi-monthly.

In the new system, which began one year ago this month, payday does not fall on regular days.

In months like April, which follow a long month with a late payday, the eagle flies only once. In the new system, the state reduced the number of employee paydays from 26 to 24 per year. The move saved money for the cash-strapped General Fund budget.

Many state workers are still unhappy about changes that they say make it harder to budget regular expenses and lead to difficulty computing compensatory time and vacation leave. Their complaints to the U.S. Department of Labor led to questions for the state, said the sponsor of a bill to address the concerns.

Several complaints

Rep Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, said he filed HB 425 because of the overwhelming number of complaints he received from voters in his district and other parts of the state. Wren’s bill would return state pay periods for most workers to every other week, instead of twice per month. But the measure, introduced in February, has not come up before the House Government Appropriations Committee chaired by Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery.

Some people say there are concerns about reverting to the old pay schedule.

Area lawmakers said they also got calls and are studying Wren’s bill, but lawmakers on committees that deal with state budgets said the issue is complicated. Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, serves on the committee.

“I never worked on an issue that needs fixing the way this one does,” said Wren, now serving his third term in the House. “Unlike the state, most workers can’t cash flow the bills because they do not have the money the state does.”

Wren said he got 3,000 e-mails representing 8,000 state workers from 58 counties.

He also got a petition signed by 900 state workers who want to return to every-other-week paydays.

“That is almost one-fourth of the state work force,” Wren said.

Wren said workers tell him they need a regular paycheck on a predictable schedule that allows them to budget monthly expenses better.

A smaller amount in a single paycheck is a small price to pay, they say.

Causing confusion

The confusion over the changes had workers at North Alabama Regional Hospital and other areas calling for a return to an every-other-week pay schedule in 2006. Regional’s Alabama Public Employees Union Local 123 held a public meeting to air complaints last October in Decatur.

Mac McArthur, head of the Alabama State Employees Association, said workers should consider the consequences of a return to the old system, including smaller individual paychecks. McArthur said the state Finance Department estimates returning to the old system would cost up to $12 million. The cost could affect pay raises for employees, McArthur said. He said other legislation to address concerns about miscalculations in overtime and vacations may come this session.

Grantland said as a retired state employee he understands state employees’ concerns. But Grantland said the Legislature must look at needs of the General Fund.

When the state Finance Department proposed the new pay schedule, Grantland said, it saved costs in computing and issuing paychecks and in planning for a 27th pay period that happens once every 11 years. That occurs because the state’s fiscal year is different than the calendar year.

Helped general fund

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said during legislative debate on changing the pay schedule in 2005, lawmakers agreed because it helped balance the General Fund budget. The state constitution says the state cannot operate in the red.

Hammon said he does not know enough about the bill yet to have a firm opinion, but he said the state should look hard at the issues the bill raises.

“They helped us out that year when the General Fund would not balance,” Hammon said. “It’s something we need to look into.”

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