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Labor shortage hitting state agencies

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The labor shortage that is impacting the private sector nationwide has now made its way to the Alabama state employee workforce.

Agencies and departments are experiencing a higher than normal employee turnover rate and more job vacancies.

“Critical positions with the Department of Human Resources and Department of Corrections are becoming harder to fill,” State Personnel Director Jackie Graham recently told ADN. “Also, fewer job applicants are responding to state agencies in their recruitment efforts.

Labor shortages nationwide have persisted following the COVID-19-related economic slowdowns, despite cuts to pandemic-related unemployment assistance.

“Worker shortages in other sectors have impacted the state’s turnover rate in that our trained workforce is seen as a fertile recruitment area for outside employers.”

Graham said her department is working with agencies on ideas to help retain and recruit workers.

Alabama state employees’ pay and several benefits outpace those of neighboring states, according to a recent presentation to lawmakers.

In 2020, state employees in Alabama had an annual wage of $57,841, more than surrounding states.

Long-serving state employees receive 18 paid leave days per year, more than or on par with surrounding states. Sick leave, eight days a year, is also similar. State employees also get 13 paid holidays per year, more than in neighboring states.

“You’re pushing a full month of paid off time that a state employee can take in a year,” Kirk Fulford, deputy director of the Legislative Services Agency, told a panel of lawmakers earlier this month. “If you don’t think that’s a benefit, it certainly is.”

While private-sector workers might have higher salaries, they often pay more for insurance than state employees and teachers, Fulford said.

“We want to make sure that our pay and benefit package stays competitive, particularly with surrounding states, but also the private sector,” Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said. “A lot of times you’ll see where the pay in the private sector is a lot better probably than what a state employee makes. But when you look at their benefit package, it’s not as good as what a state employee makes.” 

Clouse said there’s a good chance state workers will get a raise in the 2023 fiscal year budget, but what percent is still to be determined. Lawmakers start work on the ’23 budgets in January.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, said Fulford’s presentation showed that in pay and benefits, “we’re not nearly as backward as some people would have us believe.”

He said discussions about keeping state employees will begin before the 2022 legislative session.

“Where do you move from there? I don’t know yet, but we’ve got to make that determination because we have to hire people,” Albritton said. 

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