By Sam Drysdale, State House News Service
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, NOV. 10, 2022 (State House News Service) - Massachusetts House employees will start seeing a minimum 8 percent raise in their next paychecks under a new compensation plan unveiled by House leadership on Thursday.
Months after Senate staffers launched a so-far-unsuccessful unionization bid and shone a spotlight on working conditions for legislative aides, top House Democrats announced across-the-board pay increases for staff effective Nov. 7.
"We hope we'll balance some of the inequities and the unfairness and some of the differences between the same job titles that exist in the State House today, bringing some sort of definition and shape to who is doing what and what that job is valued at," House Speaker Ron Mariano of Quincy said. "We're trying to move into the [21st] century in how we pay people."
The plan also establishes a minimum salary floor for all full-time House employees of $50,466 and a minimum salary floor for legislative aides of $53,000. In total, the salary adjustments will cost a bit less than $5 million from the House's existing budget, paid for by existing House savings, according to a summary of the new plan Mariano's team produced.
A Mariano spokesperson said the House's Human Resources and Employee Engagement Committee approved the package Thursday. The raises will be carried forward in the House's operating budget in future years, the spokesperson said.
Like workers across the country, legislative aides are grappling with pointed cost increases as a result of an inflation rate that hovered at 7.7 percent for the year ending in October.
"I find this really exciting in many ways. A lot of people see these numbers as higher than people expected them to be and appreciate leadership taking the time to reflect on staffers' hard work," said Emily Kibbe, legislative aide for Rep. Tami Gouveia of Acton. "We see this as a great first step ... We want to see how this plan will be updated and how people will be compensated on a fair and equitable basis going forward."
Mariano described the raises and salary floors as part of "a process we began in 2016," when the House voted to approve the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act.
An updated version of MEPA passed unanimously by both branches in 2016 intended to close the gender wage gap and ensure "equal pay for comparable work." In 2018, the House rules reform process mandated the development of employee classifications, including written job descriptions, leading to the plan released Thursday, a Mariano aide said.
"To evaluate comparable work, the plan classifies all House employees into three organizations: Personal Staff, Committee Staff, and Operational Staff," the plan says.
Although some State House aides have lamented low pay and Senate staffers moved this year to unionize with IBEW Local 2222, Mariano said the compensation plan rolled out Thursday does not reflect representatives "reacting to something."
Senate workers unsuccessfully sought union recognition from Senate President Karen Spilka, who in late July said the chamber's legal team "does not at this time see a path forward" for legislative staff to unionize. Senate staff did, however, receive at least 10 percent pay raises in July.
Meanwhile, pieces of a package of legislation aimed at improving pay and working conditions for the hundreds of aides in House and Senate offices have languished in the House Rules committee.
The first bill in the package (HD 4386) would set a minimum salary of $55,000 for full-time House, Senate and joint legislative employees, increase other salary tiers accordingly, and require annual pay raises scaled to the increase in the statewide median household income, the News Service reported last year.
Bill sponsors Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven and Sen. Diana DiZoglio also called for providing legislative staffers with yearly cost-of-living adjustments (HD 4388) and offering retroactive bonuses to offset costs incurred during the pandemic (HD 4387).
When asked if the House's new compensation plan may impact talks about staff unionization among legislators, Mariano said the foundations of the plan began in 2016 "long before anyone was talking about this."
"I think that you see people trying to jump in saying, 'They caused us to do this,' and it's just not accurate," he said.
Mariano pointed to a two-year, annual 3 percent cost-of-living salary adjustments the House approved in 2018, another 6 percent cost of living adjustment in May 2021and now the 8 percent increase introduced Thursday.
If an employee earned a salary of $50,000 in 2015, that string of raises would bring their pay north of $60,000 now.
"They'll have received a 20 percent pay increase," Mariano said. "I challenge you to find a city or town that matched that with any of their employees."
He added that the only way the House can pay for the salary increases out of their existing budget is because "we began in 2016 and started putting money away."
Kibbe said House aides see the raise "as a win" in their unionization efforts.
"We've been raising the issue of dignity and respect of staff for months now," she said. "Since this pay is just at this moment in time, folks' salaries won't continue to be updated on a regular basis going forward. We'd like to see a plan that addresses regular cost-of-living updates, other workforce concerns and has staff input every step of the way."
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