Nebraska workers call for better pay, saying vital services are critically short-staffed

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Deadline day is quickly approaching to get a new deal done between the state and 8,000 of its employees.

If they don’t have an agreement by the end of the year, they will enter mediation.

Then they must submit their final offers by Jan. 15.

The Nebraska Association of Public Employees said progress has been slow.

At a press conference on Thursday, union members said state workers are in dire need of increased wages and benefits. They said their top priority is increasing wages to match the rate of inflation.

Executive Director Justin Hubly said because of critical shortages in staff, it’s been increasingly challenging for agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services to serve Nebraskans.

He said shortages have also led to temporary closures of agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“As many of you are aware, there was a blizzard this week that mostly hit northern and western Nebraska,” Hubly said. “The Department of Transportation had to move staff from central Nebraska to western Nebraska. And if there was to be a snowstorm that covered the entire state, the DOT would not be able to provide those essential services right now.”

SEE ALSO: ‘Any warm body I can get’: Short-staffed NDOT sends snowplow crews to western Nebraska

In addition to higher wages, members are pushing for paid parental leave, sick leave payout, limitations on mandatory overtime, retirement insurance incentives, bilingual premium pay and access to remote work assignments.

Union member Chris Morton, a marketing and communications specialist at DHHS, said it’s unacceptable that some people working for the state have more than one job to keep up with inflation.

“Each day that we go out, we see the impact,” he said. “When we fill up our gas tank, when we pay for groceries. Every expense seems to have gotten more expensive over the past year, while our wages remain the same.”

Hubly said while it’s up to the governor’s office to negotiate the contract, lawmakers will be the ones appropriating the funds, so it’s important that people contact them to share their thoughts.

Sen. Carol Blood spoke at the press conference and said the union is a lynchpin between taxpayers and what makes Nebraska a “great place to live and raise our families.”

She said Nebraska is “woefully behind” when it comes to how it treats its workers.

“And I know a lot of people that are gonna be reading about this and watching this on TV … they’re gonna say, ‘Well, if they’re unhappy why don’t they just quit?'” Blood said. “Well friends, that’s exactly what’s happening. They are leaving this workforce, and what’s going to happen is you’re going to lose services.”

NAPE Vice President Brian Koch, a workforce coordinator for the Nebraska Department of Labor in Beatrice, said he’s encouraging the public to tell state senators, co-workers and friends to invest in state employees.

“I had this neighbor that worked for the Department of Transportation, and my father used to tell me how blessed that individual was that he was fortunate enough to work for the State of Nebraska,” he said. “Fast forward 30 years, we can’t even plow our roads ’cause there’s over 200 vacancies in the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

“Fast forward 30 years, I have to have conversations with a co-worker on whether or not she’s able to apply for economic assistance.”

A spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services said, “The State Bargaining Team is actively collaborating with State Agencies and the Nebraska Association of Public Employees on a contract that will continue to support our teammates and the great work they do for the people of Nebraska.”

NDOT said its difficulties in filling open positions are not unique to the department and are happening all across the nation. But the department acknowledged that other employers offer more “competitive” pay and benefits.

“However, we have implemented new strategies including bonuses for Auto/Diesel Mechanics and CDL drivers to help attract talent,” NDOT said in a statement.

The department encourages anyone interested in applying to look for vacancies at statejobs.nebraska.gov.

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