Column: Casino workers wonder why state employees are complaining

Those state workers ought to feel darn lucky they have jobs.

They are always whining about their pay and benefits, when everybody knows they get paid better than anybody else in Carson City, and they do about half the work.

Give me a break. Would any state worker really quit his or her job and go to work for a casino? I don't think so.

Hold on. Hold on.

Before any of you hot-headed state workers go firing off a letter to the editor (which would be a letter to me) about those statements, you should be aware that's not me talking. It's people talking to me.

After I wrote an editorial in Wednesday's newspaper supporting pay raises for state employees, I got what they call "feedback."

It came from people who don't work for state government and don't think state workers deserve a raise. In fact, quite a few of them don't think state workers deserve the money they make now.

Well, that's a pretty broad statement. But I think it reflects a widespread sentiment in Carson City, where the lines tend to be drawn between People Who Work for the State, and People Who Don't.

Among those in the People Who Don't category would be a large number of casino, motel, restaurant and retail workers who do, indeed, scoff when they hear state workers complaining about low pay.

It's all relative, though.

State government doesn't hire all that many change people, or Keno runners, and the casinos have few people who compare with a prison guard.

So I took a look at the salary survey that Gov. Kenny Guinn was looking at the other day in search of comparable jobs, so we might all get an idea of the relative pay between the state and casinos.

By the way, the survey included 11 casinos among the 33 private businesses. Among public employers, there were Carson City, Clark County, Carson City School District, Elko County School District and several others. Also surveyed were government salaries in 10 western states.

The first job I came across in the survey that I considered a "regular" position that people could relate to was mail clerk.

According to the survey, mail clerks in the survey make $1,406 a month at the low end. That works out to an annual salary of $16,872. Not very good. At the high end, mail clerks make $2,096 a month in the survey (or $25,152 a year). Nobody's getting rich off that, either.

So what does the state of Nevada pay mail clerks? On the low end, it's $1,588 a month, which works out to $19,056 a year. That's 11 percent better than the private sector, a fact that supports the argument that any mail clerk who can get a job with the state is probably going to jump at the chance.

At the high end of mail clerking, the state of Nevada is paying $2,089 a month - slightly less than is being paid elsewhere.

Here's where state employees and department heads begin to make their point. They hire a mail clerk at a better-than-competitive wage, train him and get him a few years experience. At that point, he leaves for a better-paying job.

OK. Let's look at some more examples.

How about a carpenter?

The survey says carpenters make $2,641 a month on the low end ($31,692 a year) and $3,263 a month (or $39,156 a year) on the high end. By comparison, the state of Nevada is paying a carpenter $2,268 a month on the low end (that's 16 percent less than the survey) and $3,049 on the high end (still 7 percent less).

Next, let's try a custodial worker.

The survey says $1,612 a month (or $19,344 a year) at the minimum, and $2,025 a month ($24,300) at the maximum. The state of Nevada is lower at the minimum end of the scale ($1,588 a month) and a bit higher at the maximum end ($2,089).

By my rough calculations, those work out to somewhere between $9 and $13 an hour. Yeah, they're better jobs than a lot of jobs in town. They're still not great jobs.

A quick look at the Nevada Appeal's classified ads shows Wyman Gordon hiring for a variety of positions paying $8 an hour to $19.94 an hour. There's an ad for a hairdresser at $8 an hour, plus commission. A telemarketer is offering $7.75 an hour. There's an office-manager opening for $28,000 a year, and a receptionist ad offers $7.50 an hour.

None of this takes into account benefits, vacations, holidays or working conditions. But if we're just talking dollars and cents, it looks to me like everybody deserves a raise.

Among state workers, though, we're not really talking about the lesser-skilled, low qualifications type of jobs.

According to the survey, a registered professional engineer is making between $47,436 and $73,152 a year. But the state of Nevada is paying an average of 33 percent less - between $38,208 and $52,140.

Either way, that's a pretty good job. But the point by state workers is, if they can make more money just about anywhere else, why should they stay?

The other part of the complaint by People Who Don't Work for the State is that too many state workers are lazy, rude or just plain incompetent.

Well, obviously anybody who fits that description doesn't deserve a raise. They deserve to be fired.

After all, you do get what you pay for.

Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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