Union for state employees calls for better wages, benefits to lure ‘new generation’ of public servants

By: - December 15, 2022 8:25 pm
NAPE rally

Nearly 50 members of the state employees union rallied on Thursday for the state to raise wages and improve benefits to fill vacant jobs. (Courtesy of the Nebraska Association of Public Employees)

LINCOLN — The union that represents state employees called Thursday for higher wages and improved benefits to attract a new generation of public servants.

Such increases are vital if the state is to address job vacancies of 15% and higher in some state jobs, according to Justin Hubly, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Public Employees (AFSCME Local 61).

“We’re just seeing a lot less people choosing to become public servants,” Hubly said.

He cited several state jobs where vacancies are high, including snowplow driver, diesel mechanic, and those who process unemployment claims and requests for social services.

Rally at State Capitol

Nearly 50 members of NAPE rallied Thursday in the rotunda of the State Capitol amid negotiations between NAPE and state officials on a new labor contract.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume Friday, Hubly said, and are supposed to be wrapped up by the end of the year. But he complained that state negotiators have lacked a “sense of urgency” so far to address union demands.

State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, who spoke at Thursday’s rally, said Nebraskans will soon feel the impact if wages and benefits aren’t increased.

State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue (Jazari Kual/Nebraska Examiner)

“There’s going to be roads that aren’t plowed, there’s going to be public benefits that are delayed … if things aren’t improved,” Blood said.

‘A storm we can handle’

Both Blood and Hubly said the state was lucky that the recent blizzard that slammed Nebraska’s Panhandle wasn’t more widespread, because the state lacks so many workers with the proper license to drive a snowplow.

On Tuesday, John Selmer, director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation, told state lawmakers that his agency is short about 250 workers who can drive snowplows. To deal with this week’s blizzard, workers from central Nebraska were shifted westward to handle the load.

Selmer also said the state was “fortunate” that the storm was isolated to just the western portion of the state. “That’s a storm we can handle,” he told the Examiner.

Young workers seek better benefits

Hubly, of the state employees union, said benefits such as paid parental leave and greater flexibility to allow remote work would help attract more younger employees.

Blood said the state has already learned, after significant pay raises for corrections officers, that raising wages can resolve worker shortages.

A recent survey by Next100 and GenForward found that young workers were skeptical of taking jobs with state and local governments because they distrust and feel disconnected with elected officials.

Only 38% of the young respondents to the survey knew how to apply for a local government job.

Next100 is described as a “startup think tank” for a new generation of leaders. GenForward is affiliated with The Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.