What should employees know about working for NC government


The State of the State Employee

The stability of a state government job has long been a draw, along with the salaries, bonuses and benefits of public service. But with a nationwide staffing shortage, recent inflation chipping away at salaries and North Carolina lawmakers scaling back those benefits, the state has work to do to find — and retain — its workforce. Plus, who’s employed by North Carolina and why were some of their jobs just reclassified?

Here are answers to common questions about what it means to be a state employee in North Carolina.

We’ve got answers about who qualifies as a state employee, what groups advocate for state workers and what the categories of workers are, plus what kind of pay and benefits you get as a state employee.

What’s the minimum wage for state employees?

The minimum wage for permanent, full-time North Carolina state employees is $15 per hour. The 2021 budget also raises the minimum wage for noncertified public school personnel to $15 this coming fiscal year. Those personnel are not state employees, though their base wages are set by the state legislature.

How much are typical state workers paid?

The median salary at state agencies is $48,331 a year. That figure excludes public school and university system employees. The average salary for all state employees, including university employees, is about $55,000.

What’s the most recent raise for state employees?

Most state employees received a raise of 2.5% last year. The 2021 raises were reflected in paychecks around the holidays and were retroactive to July 1. Those came from the state budget bill that was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law in November 2021. (Most years, the two-year budget is passed before the July 1 start of the fiscal year.)

Do state employees get a raise this year?

Yes, employees get another 2.5% raise this year. The budget had called for a 5% raise over two years.

What about bonuses?

State workers also all received bonuses of $1,000 funded by federal American Rescue Plan Act money allocated in the budget. Some employees received an additional $500 bonus, too. Those were all paid out over the winter holidays.

What kind of benefits do state workers get?

The state has a health insurance plan, the NC State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees. The plan is a division of the state treasurer’s office, which is a state government agency.

There is also the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System, also under the treasurer’s office, which permanent, full-time employees become part of automatically and in which they are fully vested after five years. Employees can retire with partial benefits as early as age 50 if they have 20 years of service. Full retirement benefits kick in after 30 years at any age, after 25 years at age 60, or at age 65 after at least five years of service. The age and years of service required is less for law enforcement officers. The amount of a retiree’s pension is determined by their salary and years of service.

Most employees also get 12 paid holidays a year, including three days at Christmas and two days at Thanksgiving. Full-time employees get 12 days of sick leave a year that accumulates indefinitely. Most full-time employees also get a minimum of 14 paid vacation days a year, which increases with longevity.

There are also several different other kinds of leave, including paid parental leave for Cabinet agency employees.

The North Carolina Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh, pictured on Feb. 1, 2022. The state budget being late in 2021 means that state tax processing is also delayed. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan dvaughan@newsobserver.com

What state worker benefits have changed recently?

Employees who were hired from Jan. 1, 2021, forward do not get health insurance when they retire. Legislation ended the benefit for both state employees and teachers.

How do I apply for a job with the state?

State government job openings are listed here: governmentjobs.com/careers/northcarolina

What department needs employees the most right now?

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Safety have had the greatest worker shortages in 2022 so far. They are also the biggest agencies.

Are teachers state employees?

No, teachers are technically not state employees. The Department of Public Instruction said “state employee adjacent” is a good way to describe them.

“Teachers are not technically state employees (or employees of a state agency) but of the public school unit by which they are employed,” Blair Rhoades, spokesperson for the department, told The News & Observer.

How much are teachers paid?

Teachers’ base salaries are set by the General Assembly, but can be supplemented by their school districts. The 2021 state budget included additional supplemental pay for teacher salaries in many rural areas. The base starting salary for a new teacher who has a bachelor’s degree is $35,460.

Rhoades said that teachers are also “granted certain benefits of state employees by legislation, but do not enjoy any state employee benefit that is not granted to them by statute.”

What does exempt and non-exempt mean?

Frequently those terms refer to whether a state employee is exempt or nonexempt from the State Human Resources Act. Often, higher-paying positions are exempt, including policy-making and managerial jobs. That means they are at-will employees and do not have the same process of recourse if they have a grievance.

“Another aspect of jobs that are exempt from the Human Resources Act is that they are not required to advertise a job before filling it,” said Ronnie Condrey, special advisor to the head of Office of State Human Resources. “There are also different policies about setting salaries.”

“A lot of people view exempt employees as political appointees,” he said, but that’s not so for all of them.

Are university and college employees state employees? Are they exempt?

Yes, employees of the UNC System and the NC Community Colleges System are state employees. But UNC System employees’ status is a little more complicated than other state workers.

“They’ve got three different types of employees,” in the UNC System, Condrey said. “Faculty and other instructional staff are definitely exempt from any oversight from [Office of State Human Resources]† In the UNC System you also have higher level staff who are also exempt from any oversight from OSHR. Then you’ve got other staff that are subject to many of the rules and policies adopted by OSHR, which I know makes it harder to categorize.”

What is SEANC?

SEANC is the State Employees Association of North Carolina. It is affiliated with a union, but is not a union. Collective bargaining by public-sector employees is against state law in North Carolina. SEANC is affiliated with SEIU, or Service Employees International Union.

Ardis Watkins, executive director of SEANC, said the group shares information with SEIU.

“Public employee issues tend to be really similar across the country,” she said, with the No. 1 issue being pay.

SEANC lobbies for legislation that benefits state employees and teachers, including raises in the state budget.

SEANC includes all state employees, including management positions. The group has 46,000 members. It is optional to join, and SEANC dues can be taken out of paychecks.

Ardis Print_4.jpg
Ardis Watkins, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina. Photo courtesy SEANC

What is UE Local 150?

UE Local 150 is the service workers union for state and local employees. It does not include managers as members.

In the past few years, UE Local 150 has gained ground with state workers who are employed by the Department of Health and Human Services. dr. Rakesh Patel, a physician at Central Regional Hospital, is the president of the Butner Area chapter of UE 150.

“We’re small but kind of spunky, and added 100 new members last year just at our hospital,” he said.

The union opposes a provision in the 2021 budget that makes more health care workers exempt from the Human Resources Act, meaning they lose the grievance process of nonexempt employees.

What is union membership like in North Carolina?

Very low — the second lowest rate in the United States, after South Carolina. That is for all union members, both public and private sectors. North Carolina’s union membership rate is 2.6%. South Carolina’s rate is 1.7%. Seven million Americans working in public-sector jobs belonged to unions in 2021, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national total membership for public and private sectors is 17.8 million, which is 10.3% of workers.

Database editor David Raynor contributed to this story.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham, and has received the McClatchy President’s Award, NC Open Government Coalition Sunshine Award and several North Carolina Press Association awards, including for politics and investigative reporting.

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