Massachusetts Senate staffers to see at least 10 percent pay raise
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 22, 2022…..All Senate staffers are set to receive at least a 10 percent pay increase by the end of July under a plan senators rolled out Wednesday that also reworks the job classification structure for Senate employees.
Sens. Mike Rush and Brendan Crighton, the chair and vice chair of the Senate Personnel and Administration Committee, briefed senators in a joint caucus and staff via webinar on the latest chapter in a years-long series of efforts addressing pay and workplace climate.
The new classification and compensation plan, which has roots in a 2021 National Conference of State Legislatures review of practices in the Senate, bumps up the pay floor for current staff to approximately $50,000. The previous salary floor, after a 6 percent pay increase in 2021, was $45,580.
Exact raise amounts will vary — Crighton said all staff will get a one-time increase of at least 10 percent, with an average bump of 15 percent or around $8,000.
About 260 Senate staffers will be affected by the plan, and its total cost has not yet been finalized, according to Senate President Karen Spilka’s office.
The NCSL report involved the standardization and classification of different jobs — like district director, office manager, legislative director and assistant clerk — and the placement of those jobs into different pay grades, with a range of minimum and maximum salaries.
“Classification and compensation are intertwined, and we are implementing them together as recommended by the NCSL and supported by feedback from both members and staff,” Crighton, a Lynn Democrat, said. “This is the heart of our new structure, which moving forward will consist of job classifications, pay grades and salary ranges.”
Crighton said the new structure will put the Senate in line with similar systems used in the Judiciary and executive branch.
To determine where individual employees landed within the salary ranges, Senate officials said they looked at job classification, pay grade, and criteria including tenure in the position, related experience in the Legislature and other roles, education, training, and relevant licenses and certifications.
Rush said each employee “was reviewed on an individual basis, using the criteria we developed with the NCSL, in a uniform and consistent manner.”
Illustrating how the new structure might play out, Rush gave the example of a hypothetical legislative director currently earning $57,240, for a position with a minimum requirement of one year’s relevant experience and a bachelor’s degree.
If that person had a law degree, 1.8 years legislative experience, 2.4 years related other experience, and five years in their current position, they’d stand to receive a new salary of $71,639 under the new scheme, Rush said.
Rush and Crighton’s prepared presentation did not specifically address the push by Senate staff to unionize. A Spilka spokesperson said the process of developing and implementing the plan began years ago and “is completely separate from the unionization push, and is unrelated.”
IBEW Local 2222 delivered a letter to Spilka on March 31 seeking voluntary recognition of a Senate staffers union and requesting a meeting between her, the employees, and labor representatives. Workers involved in the bid to unionize have cited pay levels and inequity, fairness in hiring practices, and workforce diversity among the issues behind the effort.
Last month, after senators heard initial findings from a legal review of the unionization proposal, Spilka said more research was still needed before any action could be taken. Senate Counsel Jim DiTullio’s initial analysis found there was no applicable statutory basis for union recognition and that a law change could open the door to other complexities.
Spilka’s office said at the time that the initial determinations from the legal office allowed work to resume on the compensation and job classification reform efforts.
Spilka said Wednesday that when she took on the presidency in 2018, she “realized that the Senate needed to really modernize, professionalize and reform its salary structure, because technically there really was not much of a structure, if any.”
“We needed something that was fair and equitable and transparent, that people could understand,” she said.
Spilka took the reins of the Senate at a time of turmoil in the branch, becoming the third Senate president in one session following Stan Rosenberg’s resignation after his husband, Bryon Hefner, was accused of sexual assault, harassment and interference with Senate matters.
Prior to 2018, each senator was given their own pool of money to allocate among their office staff as they saw fit.
“You could have a chief of staff in one office making a very low salary, and another chief of staff in another office making a totally different salary for doing the same work,” Rush, a West Roxbury Democrat, said.
In 2018, as the state’s pay equity law took effect, Senate staff were required to submit job descriptions and resumes for a comparison of pay and work duties.
The Senate staff salary floor was raised to $43,000 in 2019, resulting in pay increases for some workers. Some staff members that year raised concerns that they had been left out of the process or saw continued inequities.
Moving forward, Rush and Crighton said they hope to work with NCSL to conduct a market survey gauging how the Senate compares to other workplaces and develop a standardized practice for performance evaluations.
Senate human resources, counsel and Spilka’s office will meet with each senator next week to discuss staff salaries, Crighton said.
Rush said the Senate intends “to have regular salary increases, if possible, but the mechanism for those increases has not been decided yet.”
“Keep in mind, for those of us who have lived through tough economic times — 9C cuts, furloughs — we know that we can’t predict the future,” he said.