MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- In the first round of pay raises since Wisconsin all but ended collective bargaining rights for state workers, supervisors issued average pay boosts of 6.52 percent -- but only about one of 14 eligible workers saw increases.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported Sunday that more than half of the merit awards were one-time payments, and did not become part of base salaries. The total payout cost $8.2 million.
The pay increases were higher than those over the last decade, when union contracts mandated pay increases ranging from zero to 2 percent. But one union leader complained that managers show favoritism under the new system, while experts said the state risks losing valuable employees who didn't see raises.
"Wisconsin just has very, very good public employees and we have very good public services," said Charles Carlson, a compensation expert for a management consulting firm in Middleton. "You have skilled engineers and scientists and accountants. You could say, well you just replace them with someone else, but they are very difficult to replace with all their experience and expertise."
A spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker said the raises were a good start, and more state departments and agencies will offer "discretionary merit compensation" money in the future.
"Gov. Walker looks forward to continuing to create an environment that allows hard-working, high-achieving, and outstanding employees at both the state and local levels to be financially rewarded," Cullen Werwie said. "He will work to keep the best and the brightest employees."
The 2011-13 state compensation plan laid out guidelines for discretionary merit compensation awards but no money was allocated, so departments and agencies had to cut spending in other areas to fund the program. Many didn't participate in 2012.
A total of 2,757 workers saw a boost in pay. The University of Wisconsin-Madison issued nearly half the increases, with five other campuses giving increases to 100 or more employees. The state Department of Justice gave 99 awards and the Department of Transportation gave 87.
Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employee Union, said at least some of the roughly 37,000 workers who didn't receive extra pay are unhappy.
"We've got people in the same class working side by side and getting different amounts of money, and there's no objective criteria as to why they gave it to Joe Smith rather than me," Beil said. "There can be a lot of favoritism. Even in the right-wing discussions about merit pay in schools they talk about testing students. You get to the state side, and they don't have any criteria."
Craig Olson, a former University of Wisconsin-Madison business professor who now specializes in labor relations at the University of Illinois-Champaign, said the state guidelines for merit increases left much room for subjectivity. But a bigger problem, he said, was that few awards were issued.
"It appears to be basically giving pay increases only to the very, very top performers and giving nothing to anybody else," Olson said. "I'm not sure that's sustainable in the long run. At some point those 90 percent of employees not getting a wage increase are going to find state employment not attractive."