Public sector employee unions are fighting to keep salaries above the level of inflation. Rather than receiving raises, however, government employees may have to struggle just to keep their jobs.

In its ninth annual Public Employees Compensation Survey released in September, the Washington-based American Federation of Teachers urged states to pay more competitive salaries to their employees. The survey found that government employees received a 2.4 percent salary increase from 2007 to 2008 as opposed to 4 percent inflation, with private sector employees in comparable positions making 26 percent higher salaries on average.

In the current climate, however, significant salary increases are unlikely in the near future. The Alexandria, Va.-based National Taxpayers Union (NTU) recently released the brief “Time for States to Cut the ‘Government Employee Union Tax’?” arguing that, particularly in difficult economic times, states should look to compensation freezes and “market-based salary re-evaluations” for relief. “Taxpayers are being faced with paying for shortfalls,” says Kristina Rasmussen, author of the brief and NTU director of government affairs. “Governments should be looking to save wherever they can.”

Maryland is requiring many of its employees to take an unpaid furlough. In August, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger laid off 10,000 part-time and temporary employees and reduced the pay of 200,000 state workers, and in December, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell announced a hiring freeze and a wage freeze for more than 13,600 non-union employees. “Tough choices and decisions have had to be made,” said Rendell when announcing the budget cuts, “But, tougher ones may be on the horizon.”
Jennifer Grzeskowiak is a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.